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Demand Rises, But Colleges Short Of Space Democrats, Republicans At Odds Over Funding Levels To Allow Higher Enrollments

Facing increased demand, state lawmakers want to make room for up to 5,000 more students at state colleges and universities over the next two years.

That’s not enough, say higher education officials.

State colleges need space for 8,000 more students over the next two years, according to the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“What we’re seeing is we’re falling behind,” said Dan Keller, associate director of financial affairs for the board, which advises the Legislature on higher education issues.

Washington already ranks poorly among the states in terms of space available in public colleges. And a baby-boom echo of teenagers poised to graduate from high school will make matters worse.

“We’ve got an onslaught of demand coming,” Keller said. “What we’re projecting is that it will get much worse in the future.”

The primary college-age group, 17- to 22-year-olds, is expected to jump by 7,500 people in 1997. Even stronger growth of 20,000 to 30,000 people each biennium is expected through the year 2003, according to the state budget office.

In the second day of open-door negotiations, House Republicans and Senate Democrats argued vehemently about money for higher education and found little common ground.

The House Republican budget proposal offers $38 million to pay for 5,000 more students over the next two years. The Senate Democrats’ budget plan includes $37 million for 4,100 additional students.

Despite the lower number of additional students the Senate plan would fund, most college officials prefer it because it offers more money per student.

The House budget gives colleges only part of the money they say they need to take on new students.

The House would give $6,500 per new student to Washington State University, while the Senate version would offer $7,500.

House Higher Education Committee Chairman Don Carlson, R-Vancouver, said universities can get by on the smaller amount offered by the House.

Each new student doesn’t require a college to hire new administrators or faculty, Carlson said. The most important thing is that colleges stretch the money to enroll as many students as possible, he said.

But college officials say quality may suffer.

“There’s nothing magic about it,” said Larry Ganders, a lobbyist for WSU. “What you’re doing is adding chairs to the same classroom.”

WSU currently has 600 more students on its Pullman campus than the state provided money for, said Ganders. And the university has seen class sizes increase over the past several years due to repeated budget cuts.

The Community Colleges of Spokane don’t want to take any new students who don’t come with enough state money, said Terry Brown, chief executive officer of the city’s two community colleges.

“It’s not a fair shake for our students,” Brown said.

Lawmakers also differ on where new students should be enrolled.

The House budget gives the bulk of the new enrollment slots to community colleges - 3,200 new students over the next two years. About 2,200 of those spaces would be reserved for job retraining for laid-off workers.

In the Senate budget, on the other hand, community colleges would get 2,300 new students, with the rest of the additional students going to fouryear institutions.

Democrats say House Republicans want to put too many new students in rural areas while shorting Puget Sound, where half the state’s population lives.

“The House budget reflects a bias toward Eastern Washington,” said Rep. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle.

But Carlson said the GOP budget makes up for the favoritism shown in past budgets, which were written largely by Seattle area Democrats.

“We placed our emphasis where we thought there was a lack of opportunity,” Carlson said.


 

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