Stable College Funding Stressed 84,000 More Students Expected By Year 2010
The presidents of Eastern Washington’s two largest universities said Wednesday the state needs stable and predictable funding for public colleges.
Without it, colleges won’t be able to educate the 84,000 additional students expected by the year 2010, and those who get accepted will pay much higher tuition.
“You need to educate citizens if you want a high quality of life,” said Sam Smith, president of Washington State University.
The governor’s task force on higher education recently recommended a guaranteed tax fund for Washington’s colleges and universities to protect them from budget cuts.
The task force also suggested tax breaks for businesses contributing to colleges, and called on legislators to make room for the coming boom of college-age adults.
Smith and Eastern Washington University President Mark Drummond said they support the task force recommendations but are open to other financing ideas.
“I wouldn’t draw a line in the sand and say this is the only way,” Drummond said.
“If someone’s got a better idea, I would support that, too,” Smith said.
Over the past 14 years, taxpayer spending on higher education dropped from 16 cents out of every dollar to 11 cents. As a result, tuition soared.
State officials say the number of young adults seeking higher education will grow faster than the budget while demands for prisons, health care and other programs will continue to compete for taxpayer money.
Lawmakers addressing these needs are being squeezed by Initiative 601, which limits the growth of state spending.
Smith and Drummond said their universities are becoming more efficient by boosting faculty workload, building high-tech classrooms, combining programs and prodding students to earn degrees faster.
Efficiency alone won’t solve the problem, they said during a meeting with the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.
“The alternative to some of the funding need is to just keep raising tuition,” Smith said.
Tuition is now $3,000 a year at WSU and dormitory charges are about $4,300, including meals, for an academic year. That doesn’t include books, entertainment, insurance or clothing.
If that figure increases sharply, the opportunity for college will be lost to many middle-income families.
Already, Washington ranks near the bottom of the states in the number of students enrolled in fouryear institutions.
Smith said studies repeatedly show a college degree is one of the best ways to guarantee financial success.
Ironically, they said colleges in Washington are competing against the prison system for money.
“Their graduates don’t do as well as ours,” Drummond said.