Washington Universities Take Stock Of Budget Cuts
SEATTLE (AP) - Thanks to federal stimulus dollars and a big assist from college students, the worst case budget scenario does not appear to have materialized for Washington's four-year universities.

But the reality is not a whole lot better. Every Washington university is figuring out how to cut millions of dollars from its budget for the next two years, with faculty and staff layoffs, support services cuts and class choice reduction all being considered.

The universities estimate they will lose a total of about $437 million for the biennium before about $64 million in federal stimulus money offsets cuts for the first year.

The state budget calls for cutting more than 9,000 slots for college students. Lawmakers approved maximum 14 percent tuition increases for each of the next two years for the four-year universities. Financial aid is also increasing, by about $50 million.

"The bad news is that the Legislature decided to reduce state funding to the six public four-year colleges and universities more than any other sector in state government," said University of Washington President Mark Emmert in a letter to his university community.

The drop in state money going to higher education is so dramatic, the University of Washington has reached a historic moment, according to university spokesman Norm Arkans.

"For the first time in modern history, we will be getting more money from student tuition than we will get from the state," Arkans said.

UW tuition will go up about $875 next academic year for resident undergrads and $1,000 the following year. State dollars to the university will drop by $214 million over the biennium, but the federal government is giving the UW $25 million in stimulus money in the first year.

The change raises a lot of questions about the university's future plans and its relationship with the state, Arkans said.

When asked if that statement was meant to imply some other larger transformation was coming, Arkans said no one knows what the result will be.

The drop in state support is also historic at Washington State University, but in a slightly different way. This isn't the first year students will pay more of the cost of their education at WSU than the state, because that has been true for several years, said Larry Ganders, assistant to the WSU president for government relations.

The state budget cuts total about $112.3 million over the biennium, before the federal government contributes $15.7 million in stimulus money.

WSU tuition increases will be similar to those at the UW over the next two years. After tuition increases and stimulus dollars, WSU will have to cut about $27 million from the budget in each of the next two years.

"This truly is the largest cut in the history of Washington State University," Ganders said.

He said the university community is still working out the details of the budget for next year, but everyone is trying to protect instruction and enrollment.

Most parents of college students would rather pay an extra $500 a year than cover the tuition, housing and other costs for another semester of college, said Ganders, who is a college parent himself. He said the alternative to a big tuition increase is less access to classes, which would likely extend the amount of time it takes for students to graduate.

The smaller, regional universities will see smaller cuts in terms of dollars, but the percentage decreases in state support equal those at the UW and WSU.

Eastern Washington University expects to lose $13.3 million in state money over the next two years. That will be somewhat offset by $5.5 million in federal stimulus money and a possible 14 percent tuition increase of about $650 a year, if the plan is approved by the university board.

Two years from now, even if the state economy has completely turned around, times will still be tough for the state's universities, said David Buri, EWU director of government relations.

"What I'm telling the campus is we need to be very prudent in the way we plan these next few years," Buri said. Two years from now, "there's going to be a lot of pent-up pressure from a lot of different interest groups."

The state budget cuts about $16.4 million from The Evergreen State College over the next two years. The federal stimulus totals about $2.4 million for the first year. Tuition is expected to go up about $640 a year for resident undergrads.

Spokesman Jason Wettstein said the cuts will focus on support services, so students can expect longer lines in administration and less help in the library, for example. Dozens of college staffers could be laid off in the coming months.

Central Washington University is expecting $36.9 million in state budget cuts. With a 14 percent tuition increase for each of the next two years - about $225 in the first year - student dollars will now cover more than half the cost of their education. Federal stimulus dollars for CWU will be about $6.9 million.

State budget cuts to Western Washington University total about $44 million, not including federal stimulus dollars of $8.8 million. Tuition is expected to go up 14 percent in each of the next two years or about $600 next year.

The state will pay about 43 percent of the Western's operations during the next school year, university President Bruce Shepard told The Bellingham Herald.

"The state is becoming a minority shareholder in the university," he said, adding that a decade ago the state covered 70 percent of Western's operations. "That means we're going from being a public university to a publicly assisted university."