With budget cuts and tuition increases, the past few years of economic recession have been trying for students in public colleges and universities across the country. Yet the higher-education landscape is especially rocky in Washington, one of the top ten states in cuts to higher-education funding, according to the Grapevine Project at Illinois State University.
Ranked number eight among the 39 states with substantial cuts to higher education, Washington sustained a 22.4 percent reduction in state funding from 2008 to 2013. Arizona topped the list with 36.6 percent state cuts to higher-education funding.
"We can't endure any more cuts. If you combine tuition and state appropriation, we spend $3000 less on students today than in 2009," says Norm Arkans, University of Washington Associate Vice President of Media Relations and Communications.
Although Washington's public universities and colleges have experienced setbacks, the stabilizing economy is a hopeful indicator. This academic year is the first time in three years that no significant cuts have been made to the state's higher-education budget. And Washington's universities would like it to stay that way.
In Olympia on Jan. 8, the Council of Presidents, a voluntary association of the state's six four-year college and university presidents, proposed a two-year tuition freeze in exchange for the legislature allocating $225 million in new money to higher education for the biennium. The funds, which will be prorated between the six public institutions, would leave UW with $85 million for the biennium.
The tuition freeze would alleviate a burden to students, who have received the brunt of the failing higher-education system with student debt. Thirty years ago, the state covered approximately 80 percent of the cost of education while families and students paid 20 percent. Today, according to Arkans, the statistics are flipped; students cover approximately 70 percent of the cost of education.
Although tuition increases have been significant - with double digit increases in the past four years - they have not made up for the state cuts to higher education.
"[Universities] are spending less on education to educate more [students], and students are paying more," says UW Vice President of External Affairs Randy Hodgins of the state's failing higher-education system.
In the state legislature, there is no question that higher education is a prominent issue across different caucuses. But raising revenue is controversial. It will take time to see how higher-education funding lines up in relation to competing priorities such as K-12 education, health care and transportation.
"Compared to the size of the state budget, $225 million isn't a lot of money, but on the margin it can be very daunting," admits Hodgins. "We are all hoping that the legislature might be able to reinvest to rebuilding the publication."