With the 60-day state legislative session now underway, budget writers are already beginning to sharpen their pencils for the task of writing a supplemental state budget. Filling budget shortfalls for community and technical colleges and the nearly 386,000 students we collectively serve should be a priority.
After three special sessions that ended last July, the Washington Legislature approved its 2015-2017 operating budget. Those of us who work within the state community and technical college system were pleased that tuition was reduced by 5 percent for our students, and that the state funded compensation increases for our staff (including the first cost of living increase since 2008).
However, the final budget didn’t include enough money to pay for the two policies. The community and technical college system was left short by $12.88 million. So, while it looks like our state community and technical colleges received additional support for our students and staff, we in fact are still facing budget cuts.
There are 34 community and technical colleges in Washington state, and combined, we are facing a budget shortfall of $10.9 million through just the funding gap for the cost of living adjustments, and an additional $1.98 million funding gap from the tuition reduction.
This funding gap — like the many cuts we have faced since 2009 — leaves us with three equally detrimental options for balancing our individual budgets:
▪ Cut educational programs and stop the implementation of new programs designed to give our community employers access to a skilled workforce.
▪ Remove critical student services that make sure all students can enroll and have the support they need to complete their education.
▪ Raise fees and nontuition expenses on students who are already facing millions of dollars in unmet financial aid every quarter. We, along with our fellow presidents, are committed to working with our state legislators to find a way to backfill these budget gaps. Our community and technical colleges must be able to keep up with emerging trends and technologies so that graduates continue to fill in-demand jobs in our communities and throughout the country.
While we appreciate our hardworking legislators and the time and effort they put in during the legislative sessions last year, more needs to be done. Without additional funding from the Legislature, all of our communities are at risk of feeling the economic impact for years to come.
Timothy Stokes is president of South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia. Amy Morrison Goings is chairwoman of the Legislative and Public Information Committee of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges. Eric Murray is chairman of the capital budget committee of the Washington Association of Community and Technical Colleges