Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist
The search for a long-term answer for higher-ed funding in Washington state
Washington state's universities are used to being shorted by Olympia, which makes further cuts more painful.
Times editorial page editor
Getting shorted by Olympia might be a new experience for some groups, but not for Washington's public universities. The six institutions have been the Legislature's rainy-day fund extending back a number of sessions.
The schools' funding is an easy target because, unlike K-12, basic higher-education funding is not constitutionally protected. As a result lawmakers have been diverting money elsewhere.
Nobody expected that to change this year. What makes the proposed cuts to higher ed in the House, Senate and governor's budgets so egregious is that our state's campuses have been neglected for years and now have to take huge cuts. By now the Legislature should have found a way to properly funnel money to the universities. They have not and now the schools face another large reduction.
The House budget cuts $532 million from colleges and universities, and the Senate would eliminate $550 million. Both the House and Senate do give the schools the ability to increase tuition. The House's plan would allow an annual increase up to 13 percent for two years, the Senate annual tuition increase is up to 16 percent in two years.
Tuition increases are only a short-term solution. A public education in Washington is relatively cheap. Students at the state's two research universities — Washington State University and University of Washington — pay about $8,000 a year in tuition. That number can be much higher in other states, which means our universities have some room, not much, to raise tuition.
After this budget biennium there needs to be a better, more stable and long-range answer. Students cannot keep absorbing the cost.
In an editorial board meeting a couple months back, WSU president Elson Floyd told us he is concerned about the rising cost of tuition. He explained that he was able to attend the University of North Carolina because of the reasonable cost. He was the first in his family to attend college. That would not have happened had tuition been too high a barrier.
Access is important. Washington state high-school graduates should have the option to attend a public university. Increasingly that has become more difficult because universities have to find ways to bring in revenue.
One avenue is bringing in more students from out of state who pay the cost of an education as opposed to state subsidized in-state students. The UW is doing this on a small scale and allowing for more out-of-state students. UW expects 70 percent of its freshman class will be in-state. The number was 73 percent this year.
As difficult as it is to stomach higher tuition and more out-of-state students getting seats, I can understand why it is happening.
In 1991, the state paid 80 percent of the cost of educating a UW student. That number is now 45 percent. Next year it will be 35 percent. The numbers are similar at WSU.
Olympia does not seem willing or capable of properly funding higher education. The Legislature and the university presidents should work together and by the next biennium budget come up with a stable source of revenue for our state's public universities.
The dedicated support does not have to be exorbitant but needs to be stable and consistent. If university leaders know how much to expect year in and year out from the state, it will be easier to budget, raise money and create enough space for all of Washington's students who want to attend state schools.
Ryan Blethen's column appears on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is: email@example.com
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.