Opinion

State budgets and higher education

The 2009 Legislature dealt with our state’s fiscal crisis in a way that sought to avoid lasting harm to public higher education. However, a combination of deep budget cuts and steep tuition increases has led some to speculate that we have crossed an important divide.

This biennium, four of our six baccalaureate institutions will receive more than 50 percent of their operating revenue from tuition and fees. In 2007-2009, state support for these institutions averaged 64 percent of operating revenue.

Have we started down the path to a privatized funding model for our public higher education institutions? We hope not. We need a serious discussion about the future of higher education and a re-affirmation of why it is a solid and necessary public investment.

Broad and affordable college access enables societies to compete in our increasingly complex and integrated world. Many states and nations are making the investment to raise education levels among their citizens. But Washington is failing to meet this challenge. Rather, we’re importing people with degrees to fill our best jobs. We need to do better.

The state’s master plan for higher education calls for a 40 percent annual increase in degree and certificate attainment by 2018. We believe this goal is attainable, but we recognize that much work will be needed.

A new System Design Plan authorized by the Legislature, the first in 30 years, will provide rational rules for growth to help expand higher education access to the communities and populations that need it most.

Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines of this important discussion. We need advocates who can explain the importance of higher education to all the people of the state.

Ann Daley, Executive Director

Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board

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