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Monday, June 3, 2013
Writing: The Spokesman Review
In February of 2011 I was invited to provide a guest editorial regarding the state of higher education for a large Washington-based newspaper called the Spokesman Review. The piece ran in the Sunday edition to a circulation of ~100,000.
The education of a generation could not matter any more than it does right now. Current undergraduates will very soon begin taking over for retiring baby boomers, moving into careers in your area and accepting leadership roles across the state.
Withholding funding from these individuals could not only warp the quality of their education, but also destroy their trust in this statewide community. Without your support, our next generation will be mediocre at best.
It is no secret the state and nation are struggling financially. Many states have forced education to swallow the burden of deficit reductions. The Washington Legislature cut 15 to 33 percent from each public higher education institution’s 2009-2011 allocation, only to tack on another $51 million cut in December. During the past 18 months Washington State University has lost $133.3 million in state support – roughly 40 percent, according to President Elson S. Floyd.
This latest cut reveals no sign of relief ahead. This has been a growing problem since 1987 in Washington. Back then approximately 85 percent of tuition costs were paid for by the state. As of 2011, the state and students pay nearly equal amounts. Projections for 2012 and 2013 see student expenditures overtaking state expenditures on tuition. As state funding for public universities evaporates, tuition hikes pass off the difference to students and their parents – like a supertax on responsible middle-class parents sending multiple children to college.
According to WSU budget officials, tuition has increased 91 percent in 10 years. Kiplinger’s magazine reports the average student now graduates with $20,544 in debt. As a result, these young adults will delay making economy-boosting investments like cars and houses.
Higher education may no longer be a priority to Washington taxpayers. Initiative 1098, an income tax on only the highest grossing individuals in the state, was rejected by 64 percent of voters. The tax would have collected an estimated $2.2 billion, with 70 percent devoted to education, according to the Office of Financial Management. Government has not provided any solace either. At a recent event on campus, local legislators indicated that education will remain on the back burner of funding priorities until the economy stabilizes. Soliciting donations was their primary suggestion.
With that we launched Campaign for WSU, a fundraising effort to generate $1 billion by 2015, of which we have already raised more than half. Unfortunately these efforts will do nothing for faculty fearing job loss or current students unable to graduate.
At WSU, even with such drastic increases to tuition, a deficit of several million dollars must be accounted for with budget cuts. Though President Floyd initially prioritized quality of education by eliminating vacant faculty positions, proposing a $100,000 cut to his own salary and appealing to other administrators for voluntary pay cuts, additional rounds of funding cuts have forced the university to consider more drastic matters.
We have lost our theater department, and students can no longer major in German or community and rural sociology. Current budget proposals include the elimination of 32 faculty members. Many are local residents with families, anxiously awaiting some miraculous outcome to save them from rebuilding their entire lives.
As students, we will soldier on through these conditions. We will offer our service at unpaid internships to gain valuable hands-on experience our university is no longer able to provide us. We will excel even further in oversized classes to even out the playing field with private or out-of-state university students. While it might be frustrating to work for no pay while balancing a full course load, we must embrace what will prevent us from falling short when important opportunities arise.
Responsibility to persuade hardened legislators also falls to students, who unfortunately lack the strong lobbying presence of other organized groups. Scholars of all institutions must join together the way farmers, businesses, unions and other special-interest groups do and force legislators to listen to their concerns. WSU students may be geographically impeded, but next week we will journey across the state to lobby in solidarity for “Coug Day at the Capitol,” and to make our voices heard.