April 7, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: WSU, EWU could get budget win in Olympia

 

Washington’s universities may be spared the rod this year after repeated canings by the Legislature.

Washington State University and Eastern Washington University could receive double-digit funding increases for the next biennium if a budget like one prepared by the bipartisan Senate coalition emerges from three-way negotiations that will include Gov. Jay Inslee and the House of Representatives.

The higher education budget, largely the work of Sen. Mike Baumgartner, adds $8.2 million to state funding for Eastern, an increase of more than 12 percent from $68 million for this biennium. With tuition, the total boost for 2013-15 is almost 19 percent, from $248.4 million to $295.4 million.

Washington State gets a $24.7 million state-funding kick, a 15.5 percent increase. Add tuition, and the budget grows 14.3 percent to $1.4 billion. Spokane benefits from a commitment to fund second-year medical school training in the joint WSU-University of Washington program at the Riverpoint Campus. Forty more students per year will be enrolled in the Spokane program by the end of the 2013-15 biennium. And they will have $2 million in new scientific instrumentation to work with at the Biomedical and House Sciences building when construction is completed.

The budget also calls for a reboot of the forestry program discontinued a few years ago when the university economized in response to falling state support. The revitalized program will have to rely on tuition – grow-your-own, so to speak.

State funding for all campuses would increase to $3 billion, roughly 11 percent, a figure close to that proposed by Inslee.

The government affairs representatives for EWU and WSU say they are pleased with the Senate package, but not perfectly so.

The bill would impose a 20 percent surcharge on tuition paid by foreign students prized for the diversity they bring to the campuses, and the support the full out-of-state tuition provides to in-state students could pay substantially less. EWU has relatively few international students, but WSU and UW especially have thousands who may look to other states if priced out of educations in Seattle and Pullman.

The result could be a net loss in revenues. The increase would be further counterproductive because Washington companies are trying to increase the number of international workers they can hire. If they are educated elsewhere, they are more likely to work elsewhere.

The Senate would also restrict campus tuition-setting authority. Bad idea. Let the campuses set their price. Lawmakers can help by increasing student aid, shoring up the Guaranteed Education Tuition program.

The House will release its budget this week. It’s not yet clear whether funding will be committed to the 1,000-plus science, technology, engineering and mathematics education slots Washington business leaders want.

K-12 education, thanks to a state Supreme Court ruling, is the Legislature’s top priority. But higher education has needed help for several years, and may finally get some.

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