Six university presidents say Senate budget falls short

(Based on a press release from the Council of Presidents)

The presidents of six Washington public universities and colleges, having reviewed the recently proposed Senate budget, said Tuesday, March 29, that they preferred Gov. Gregoire’s budget.
The Council of Presidents, in a press release, stated that they “appreciate that state Senate budget writers proposed a fiscal plan that funds salary increases for faculty and staff and adds 4,000 more enrollment opportunities for students in their system.” However, that budget proposal “falls short” in comparison to Gregoire’s proposal, which it described as providing “a positive and straightforward commitment to fund higher education.”

COP expressed particular concern that the Senate plan “continues the unfortunate practice of increasing tuition, then shifting portions of that revenue to fund programs outside the instructional mission.”

Les Purce, chair of the Council of Presidents and President of Evergreen, said, “I understand the tough budget choices that must be made this year. I appreciate the Senate’s commitment to fully fund salary increases for our faculty and staff and to increase state financial aid to needy students.  However, I am concerned that the Senate budget continues the past practice of decreasing state support for our institutions and increasing tuition to balance the higher education budget, essentially adding revenue with one hand and taking it away with another.”

COP said it appreciated salary increases of 3.2% in the 2005 and an additional one-time increase of 1.6% in 2006, and also was pleased to receive support for improved health benefits.

“The quality of our institutions relies heavily on our ability to attract, retain, and reward the best and the brightest faculty and staff,” said V. Lane Rawlins, President of Washington State University.

The Senate proposal comes in nearly $90 million lower for higher education than the budget proposed by Gregoire, and suggests that the money be made up via increases in tuition and fees.

“We have consistently taken the position that tuition increases should be directed toward enhancing higher education, not supplanting budget cuts,” said University of Washington President Mark Emmert.  “We don’t want students and their families to pay more and get less.”

The Senate plan provides increases in undergraduate resident tuition throughout public higher education, then shifts half of the tuition revenue from those fee increases from college and university budgets to offset general fund state support.

“We should call this tuition policy what it is – a tax on students to supplement the state general fund,” said Eastern Washington University President Stephen Jordan.  “It should have been included with the list of other state general fund revenue enhancements.”

Central Washington University President Jerilyn McIntyre also expressed concern about the Senate plan, noting, “We have always supported financial aid for our students, but we believe the state should provide that assistance as it has historically. Student tuition should fund educational quality: hiring and retaining the best faculty, providing more class sections, and improving technology and access to student services.”

The presidents also welcomed enrollment increases, but they worried about overall funding support per student, which falls below the Governor’s level when all the additions and subtractions in the Senate plan are examined. 

“The Senate’s approach raises enrollment and tuition levels higher than those proposed by the Governor, but provides less money to educate current and future students,” Western Washington University President, Karen Morse, explained.  “We all want to make sure we improve access to public higher education – but as importantly, we must protect the quality of the educational programs all our students receive.”