With the state expecting a large tax revenue surplus, Washington’s universities want money to build a video classroom network in 29 cities.
The state is expecting a $690 million surplus, so it’s the first time in several years that colleges are not facing cuts.
All six of the state’s four-year institutions are joining forces to seek $34 million for the video communications network.
More classes could be taught off the main campuses through video links.
The money would go to buy high-tech transmission lines, video conferencing equipment, microwave dishes and satellite links.
It would expand a system built several years ago by Washington State University to connect Pullman with Spokane and six other cities.
The new system would hook up the cities to a Washington Higher Education Network (WHEN).
On Friday, Eastern Washington University’s board of trustees approved a request to lawmakers for their share of the cost of the new system, estimated at $1.4 million.
If built, the system would link the Cheney campus with Spokane and the rest of the network.
A professor teaching in Cheney could hold sessions simultaneously in electronic classrooms elsewhere. A good example would be a master’s course in teacher education, one of EWU’s strongest programs.
Mike Stewart, EWU vice president for business, said electronic teaching will allow more students to earn degrees without attending classes on the main campuses.
The idea is to increase access to Washington’s college system and make the system more efficient so it can handle increasing numbers of students.
“It’s hard to imagine all of the things you could do with this,” he said.
Gov. Mike Lowry is considering the proposal as part of a supplemental budget request to the Legislature. Lowry is expected to submit his budget a week before Christmas, and lawmakers will begin debate next month.
EWU President Mark Drummond said the decision several years ago to combine library holdings of EWU and WSU set a precedent for creating this statewide college communications system.
In all, EWU is seeking more than $5 million in its supplemental request. Combined, all of the state’s colleges and universities are asking for more than $90 million. WSU alone is seeking $25 million.
The EWU request includes $483,000 to improve its electronic library links with WSU.
The university announced that it received $375,000 in donations for establishing an endowed professorship and five graduate fellowships. The state is being asked to match the donations with another $375,000.
Also, EWU is seeking $226,000 to open the first classroom building at the Riverpoint campus in downtown Spokane, and $248,000 to open the remodeled Sutton Hall in Cheney.
EWU officials said the state made a $900,000 error in its complicated formula for handing out money to the university during the current two-year budget period, so it is asking the Legislature to correct the problem.