Washington State University President Sam Smith complained Tuesday that colleges and universities are taking a back seat in the funding of state services.
Four-year institutions are expected to receive only a 0.4 percent increase in state support over the next two years.
At the same time, the social services budget, which includes welfare, is proposed to receive a 17 percent increase. Overall state spending would go up 9 percent.
However, as government policy, education is a better investment than social programs or prisons, Smith told the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.
“This state has chosen incarceration or public support (welfare) as its two primary alternatives,” he said.
Smith said he favors a bill sponsored by Sen. Nita Rinehart, D-Seattle, which would tie increases in spending for higher education to the growth of personal income in the state.
Since 1981, the amount of money going to higher education has fallen from 16 percent of the state general budget to only 11 percent.
The difference has been made up through increases in tuition. Over the past decade, tuition has risen 122 percent. Some lawmakers and Gov. Mike Lowry want to raise tuition again.
But, Smith said, students, especially those from middle-income families, are being priced out of a fouryear education. He said he opposes plans for tuition increases of 6 percent to 8 percent.
Tuition at WSU now is $2,907 a year.
WSU is backing Rinehart’s bill, which calls for a tuition increase of 4.3 percent next year.
Because of insufficient state support, colleges and universities increasingly are being forced to raise money from the private sector.
On Tuesday, WSU announced a $200,000 gift from Washington Water Power Co. and its subsidiary, Pentzer Corp. The money was received as part of a $200 million fundraising campaign by the university.
About half of the WWP gift will go for the engineering management program at WSU Spokane. The other half will go to help recruit and educate American Indians at the Intercollegiate Center for Nursing Education in Spokane.