Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Higher education is long term answer to economic challenges facing state

Higher Education Coordinating Board Executive Director Don Bennett was asked Monday if the Board considered the possibility that the state may be in for a decade of very low economic growth and structural deficits when the Board prepared its higher education budget recommendations for the 2011-13 biennial budget.
“I confess this is my own assumption,” House Higher Education Committee Chair Larry Seaquist told Bennett during the committee work session on Monday.  Seaquist said he believes state government’s current fiscal problems reflect not just a “pothole,” but a new playing field that the state will have to restructure itself to operate upon.
Bennett was explaining the process the Board followed last November in arriving at its recommendation for a $3.3 billion General Fund appropriation for higher education in the 2011-13 biennium.  The Board considers the recommendation a “survival level” proposal that does not restore higher education cuts made over the current biennium.
The HECB is aware of recent state economic forecasts but, Bennett said, the Board believes “holding the line” on educational investments, even during tough economic times, is ultimately the way out the state’s economic problems. He pointed to a decline in state educational attainment, including the likelihood that, for the first time, the next generation of Washingtonians will be less-well educated than the previous generation.
“If we don’t reverse engines and start to climb out of that deficit of talent and education and skill building, then exactly the future that you articulate is what we may be stuck with,” Bennett told the Committee chair.  “But it’s within our prerogative not to go down that road.”   

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