Balancing the budget


Budget Photo by Andrew Simonetti

With the fiscal year nearing its closure, the UW community is bracing itself to hear long-awaited news from Olympia. 

The 105-day state legislative session officially ended April 28, albeit without a compromise between the two released budgets. It is likely the UW Board of Regents will not have a clear sense of the anticipated state funding until after Gov. Inslee’s special session, which began Monday.

Ross Hunter, House Ways and Means Committee chair, released the House budget proposal April 11. This budget appropriates $34.3 billion of the Near General Fund-State, which is comprised of the state’s general fund, along with the Education Legacy Trust account, for the 2013-15 biennium. Of this amount, all of higher education in the state of Washington, including financial aid, would receive nearly $3 billion, or 8.4 percent.  

The House assumes the UW will increase undergraduate resident tuition by 5 percent each year to make more revenue available. However, some of the funds must be allocated to specific programs. The House budget requires that $2 million of these funds to go to the college of engineering, $12 million be used to create a Clean Energy Institute, and $16.5 million be used to support computer science and engineering program enrollments.

Melanie Mayock, vice president of the UW Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS), said this budget doesn’t come close to restoring the money that has been lost in the last few years. 

“We are not even where we were 10 years ago because so much has been cut,” Mayock said. “GPSS and probably most students would prefer to see state investments in public higher education rather than putting the cost on students. Especially after several years of double-digit tuition increases, I think it is time to stop raising tuition and have the state restore the funding that it has cut over the years.” 

Angie Weiss, director of the ASUW Office of Government Relations, said she is concerned that the assumed tuition increase of 5 percent per year could realistically be a higher figure because the local tuition-setting authority has freedom in this area. 

Weiss said ASUW has ongoing contact with Olympia and is advocating full-time funding. 

The Senate budget proposal, released by Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Andy Hill on April 3, assumes no tuition increases for resident undergraduates. There is also a proposal by the Majority Coalition Caucus to cut tuition by 3 percent, which would negate the new funding provided. 

However, the Senate relies on a 20 percent surcharge on international-student tuition, both undergraduate and graduate, to generate an additional $59 million of funding. Eighty percent would be raised from international-tuition hikes at the UW since it is the largest educational institution in the state. 

“The idea was pretty disturbing,” Mayock said. “It seems like they are punishing one particular group to raise money for the others.” 

Mayock and other student advocates said they believe the surcharge will lead to a decline in international-student enrollments, which could result in an overall reduction of revenue for the UW. This could lead to a cut in services like academic advising, enrollment slots, and gateway classes. 

Xinglu Yao, an international student at the UW from China, said she was concerned that the 20 percent tuition surcharge would add an extra burden on her parents, who completely finance her education.

“The pressure on my parents transfers to me because I am their only child,” Yao said. “This will add to my academic and psychological pressure to do well in school.” 

Yao, a psychology major in her junior year, is already building a rationing plan in order to save money in the face of increased tuition. 

“I was planning to apply to UW graduate school, but now I will consider going to out-of-state schools,” she said.

Margaret Shepherd, UW director of state relations, said she is primarily concerned that the proposed surcharge would price international students out of their education. 

“International-student tuition is already about three times of what residents pay,” Shepherd said. “We try to make sure that we are charging tuition that reflects our market and ability to attract the best and brightest international students that we possibly can. We think they are huge assets to the learning environment at the university.”

Middle-income students are another group that would be impacted by the Senate’s current proposal. These are the students who are not eligible for need-based grants and are left with the option of taking out more loans. 

“The pattern we have gotten into is that every time the state cuts higher-education funding in the university’s operating budget, they allow for tuition increase, and then they increase funding for the State Need Grant,” Weiss said. “The problem is that it gets us in the cycle of high tuition, high aid, high debt.” 

Weiss said both budgets are kind of mixed bags.

“We can do better as far as both of those,” Weiss said. “We should have enough funding so tuition increases aren’t necessary, and the funding should be dedicated so we know we can rely on it every year instead of worrying what is going to be on the chopping block with each legislative session.”

UW President Michael Young has been making frequent trips to the Capitol. He said these budgets don’t meet the university’s ultimate goal of lower tuition, but do preserve the quality of education.

“In the absence of significant, new state investment, we appreciate this budget allows for modest tuition increases, which will be necessary to preserve student access to a high quality education,” Young said in a statement regarding the House proposal. “If we want to keep tuition increases low, the state must adequately reinvest in our students and public higher education.”

Young said in the statement that he hopes to continue lobbying for a more ideal budget. 

GPSS and ASUW are also hoping to influence the final budget. They delivered more than 2,300 petition signatures from students, faculty members, parents, and other supporters to the Legislature on April 23 to advocate for protection of higher-education funding.

“We are only going to get what we ask for,” Weiss said. “Right now the budget has put us between a rock and a hard place, so we have to ask for more.” 

ASUW has already forwarded close to 1,000 emails from UW community members to budget leaders, according to Weiss.

“Contact from constituents is really key because leaders do respect what they hear from the people they represent,” Weiss said. “We are doing everything that we can to get our message out there.”

Although they have a different approach, UW administrators also said they support the idea of high-quality, affordable education. Shepherd said there is an important conversation to have about the balance of affordability and quality. 

“Certainly, a cut in tuition like the Senate budget has proposed seems attractive, but the challenge is that the cut results in less funding for the university,” Shepherd said. “That would have a direct impact on the quality of education.”

UW administrators are optimistic because neither of the budgets proposes the exaggerated cuts in higher education historically seen. Shepherd said the university is trying to make sure that students are able to get the classes they need and do not have to take an extra year in school and pay an extra year of tuition in order to successfully complete their education. 

“It is important to make sure that tuition increases stay as low as possible so that University of Washington education remains affordable for students but also that ensuring there are enough resources to give them a high-quality education,“ Shepherd said.

Differential tuition, which would allow state universities to charge different tuition rates for different majors, and increased funding for STEM majors are still outstanding issues that could be resolved in the final negotiations. The Senate and the House have gone back and forth on the tuition issue in recent months. In February, the House passed a bill permanently limiting differential tuition, while the Senate Higher Education Committee passed legislation temporarily suspending differential tuition later that month. Meanwhile, six public universities across the state continue to lobby for their initial proposal of $225 million in a new state investment for a two-year tuition freeze. 

“If we are to compete in the 21st-century economy, we can and must do better,” Young said in his statement.

Reach contributing writer Geet Chawla at development@dailyuw.com.Twitter: @GeetChawla7

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