Yikes! UW describes look of 30 percent funds cut

The OlympianFebruary 24, 2011 

Phyllis Wise, the interim president for the University of Washington, says that state budget cuts later this year could have troubling effects at the state’s largest research university. She paints the picture of a world-class institution struggling to keep its "public" mission and outlines a future with sharp cuts in programs and a drop in the number of in-state residents admitted to the college.

A letter outlining the UW’s dilemma went this morning to key state Democratic lawmakers who chair budget and higher education committees. Go here to see the letter and here to see more about the horrors Wise describes.

Wise spoke Wednesday to The Olympian’s editorial board about its dilemma. The university has been making plans for deep cuts of up to 7 percent under Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan for 2011-13 – after cutting $57 million the past two years in spite of 14 percent per year hikes in tuition.

The governor's bill already calls for 11 percent tuition hikes to lower the effect of her proposed cuts to 7 percent of basic education operations costs. But to mitigate the impact entirely the UW would need to raise the tuition rates by more than 20 percent – above the $8,698 per year paid now by instate undergrads and roughly $25,000 paid by out-of-state students.

The UW also is looking what happens if revenues fall further with the March 17 forecast and it needs to cut 15 percent or even 30 percent. The latter could represent a $247 million cut, or almost $60 million more than Gregoire's plan – which is the topic of Wise’s letter.

I have a call into Senate Ways and Means chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who was one of a handful of lawmakers getting the letter. He's been on the floor but I'll post his remarks when I hear from him.

Wise told The Olympian that "the state Legislature has a daunting task and we realize we cannot ask for money when the state has health care and social issues" losing funding. She said that is why UW leaders are looking for other ways to help the university's bottom line while not losing its face as a premier research university that is also a public school open to state residents.

And that is why the UW is asking lawmakers this year for flexibility on tuition, which is becoming a much larger share of an undergraduate students' education cost as state support is poised to shrink by a half over three years. The UW also wants flexibility on human resources issues and on a capital construction plan, which looks to wither this year (except for the privately funded Husky Stadium project that is costing about $250 million and timed to coincide with a Sound Transit project nearby.)

The school also is looking at swelling the percentage of students who come from out of state and pay almost three-times-higher tuition at the school, while reducing the number of in-state applicants it accepts.

Under Gregoire's budget, UW might have to admit 150 fewer in-state freshmen in favor of admitting 150 out-of-state students who provide more income to the state.

And it could force UW to consolidate its Evans School of Public Affairs with another college on campus and reducing course offerings. UW might consolidate other programs and eliminate both the foreign language certification program for teachers and the Institute for Public Health Genetics. It could also reduce access to entry-level engineering courses and reduce the library’s magazine and book subscriptions and purchases.

Tuition now stands at $8,698 a year for in-state undergraduates and about $25,000 for out-of-state enrollees. Higher rates are charged for professional schools like medicine, dentistry and the like.

A 30 percent cut could equal $247 million. The effect, according to UW's analysis: 500 fewer in-state freshman enrollments a year; 300 fewer enrollments of community and technical college transfer students;, up to 500 more enrollments of out-of-state students; up to 1,800 fewer campus jobs by up to 1,800 jobs; delayed in students completing degrees as they wait for space to open in classes that are offered with less frequency.

Yearly tuition increases could vary by department and go up between 23 percent and 30 percent at the high end. Some degrees can withstand higher increases than others, and it is possible the school would charge more for some undergrad degrees, according to Wise.

In her letter to lawmakers Wise was pointed in describing the UW's role in Washington's culture and economy:

"We don't just generate jobs and economic impact – we create opportunities and solve the world's most complex problems. We are your teachers, your doctors, your engineers, your accountants, and your neighbors. If you have ever had a family member saved from cancer, brushed your teeth with a Sonicare toothbrush, waved at your developing baby through an ultrasound, or taken in the beauty of the Washington State Arboretum – you have been touched by the University of Washington. People benefit from the presence of the University of Washington in our community, whether they attend as students or not. That’s our job as your public University."

Wise added:

"Times are tough, but please know – without state funding and strategic solutions – everything is at risk. The opportunities. The economic impact. The future of our state."

In the big picture, state contributions to the UW leviathan’s operations have fallen to less than 10 percent of its overall $3.3 billion yearly budget. About $1.2 billion of the 45,000-student school's operations costs are covered by research grants. The prestigious UW Medical Center accounts for another $670 million and gifts or philanthropy add $100 million.

As the state's share of operations costs is falling – to a bit over $300 million a year – the cost of education has stayed pretty stable since about 1991, Wise says. This means that what has changed is who must pay for it. She said the shift has been to students and families through higher tuition which is offset for some by state grants and the popular Husky Promise scholarship program that serves about 8,000 students.

But tuition and state funds provide a base for the institution's learning environment that makes everything else work, Wise said.

With Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal for higher tuition-setting for schools, UW’s basic education operations would be funded 65 percent with tuition and 35 percent with state money, Hodgins said.

"We're thinking of everything,"' Wise said, noting that a 15 percent increase in tuition would still leave undergrad payments below $10,000 a year. That would be below the mean tuition rates of UW's peers in what are called the “Global Challenge States” – such as Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Virginia, Colorado and California. And tuition would remain below the No. 4-ranked University of California-at-Irvine ($11,913 today).

Another peer, UCLA, had a 25 percent tuition hike last year that led to demonstrations, and some of that state's leaders are saying they need a ballot measure to raise money and avert deeper cuts, said UW vice president for external affairs Randy Hodgins.

"They're freaking out in California because they just crossed the river that we did two years ago (when) state funding fell below 50 percent,” Hodgins said.

Stay tuned.

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