Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shift away from state support for higher education discussed at hearing

The major themes of Gov. Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 budget for higher education are maintaining system quality and making progress on the degree-production targets contained in the state’s Strategic Master Plan for Higher Education.
That was the message the Governor’s fiscal and policy advisers delivered last week to members of the House Higher Education Committee, who also heard from higher education system representatives about the impact additional budget cuts could have on both program quality and degree production.
To maintain system quality in a time of reduced state revenue, the Governor’s budget would continue to shift more of the burden of higher education costs onto students and their families through higher tuition.
The budget proposal would reduce the higher education appropriation from the state General Fund by $344.7 million in the next biennium. The reduction would be partially offset by authorized tuition increases for the public colleges and universities.
The Governor proposes legislation that would limit undergraduate-resident annual tuition rate increases to:
·         11 percent at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University;
·         10 percent at community and technical colleges;
·         9 percent at Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College.
The new tuition increases would come on top of 14 percent annual increases at the state’s public baccalaureate institutions the past two years, and 7 percent annual increases at community and technical colleges.
To offset the impact of tuition increases on students who meet income requirements for the State Need Grant (SNG) program, the Governor’s proposal would increase SNG funding by $91.6 million in the next biennium. Even so, demand for SNG may make it hard for some students to receive assistance. Last year, nearly 22,000 eligible students went unserved because demand exceeded available dollars.
To meet expected demand for college-educated workers in years ahead, the Strategic Master Plan calls for the state’s public and private four-year colleges and universities to produce at least 6,700 more bachelor’s degrees per year by 2018 than they did in 2010. The number of additional degrees needed would continue to increase in later years. Because of the recession, state budget cuts and other factors, the number of additional degrees produced since the Strategic Master Plan was adopted in 2008 has remained flat.
To address that issue, the Governor proposes to shift the focus from enrollments to an incentive program that rewards institutions that can produce more of the degrees the state needs.
Taking into account the additional revenue they would receive from tuition increases, the Governor’s budget proposal for 2011-13 still would leave higher education institutions about 5 to 6 percent below the level of operating revenue in the 2009-11 biennium. Additional cuts in the current biennium are likely when the Legislature passes a final supplemental budget.
 The reduction in state support for higher education—and the impact it has had on public colleges and universities—was described by higher education representatives during the House Higher Education Committee work session last week.
Council of Presidents Executive Director Mike Reilly pointed out that in the Governor’s proposed $32 billion state budget for 2011-13, about $1 billion in General Fund money is allocated for public baccalaureate institutions.  That is about the same amount allocated in the 1989-91 budget, when total General Fund spending was $12.7 billion. Reilly called that a “staggering stagnation of funding for higher education.”
Reilly said state investment makes higher education accessible and affordable and allows institutions to move toward meeting the state’s goal of increased degree production to serve the needs of the economy. Further reductions in General Fund support would move the state in the opposite direction—toward reduced access, fewer new degrees in science, technology engineering and mathematics, and fewer educated students, Reilly said.
 If lawmakers can keep further General Fund reductions to modest levels while allowing modest tuition increases, it may be possible to make continued progress on higher education goals, he said.

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