It's cuts in funding, not high salaries, that are driving the crisis in funding at our colleges and universities, says Sen. Kilmer in The News Tribune:
A recent op-ed by Sen. Mike Carrell rightly voiced concerns about rising costs facing students in Washington's institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, Carrell diagnosed the problem as primarily driven by rising salaries and administrative costs.
Make no mistake – the state needs to do all it can to reduce unnecessary costs. And none of us has an appetite for large bonuses when many of us are just trying to make ends meet.
But let’s look at the facts.
Washington’s colleges and universities have made double-digit cuts in administrative expenses. In fact, the cost of educating each student has remained flat for 20 years and is lower today than in 1990.
So, if administrative increases aren’t driving tuition prices up, what is?
State disinvestment in higher education.
Unfortunately, higher education has served as the state’s rainy day fund. Since the Great Recession began, state funding for our four-year colleges has dropped from 60 percent of the core costs of instruction to just 35 percent. In other words, while costs of educating students have remained flat, the price paid by students and their families has gone up due to dramatic reductions in state higher education investment.
Things could get worse. Under the governor’s recent reduction scenario, state support would drop to levels last seen when Ronald Reagan was president.
While it’s tempting to micro-manage how much the University of Washington pays every administrator, how justifiable is that when state appropriations now comprise just 4 percent of the UW’s funding? Or when researchers mentioned by Carrell– who weren’t paid with state funds – brought in $972 million in outside grants last year?
For Washington’s economy and budget to recover, the state can’t continue to reduce support for colleges and universities.
First, education investments are the cornerstone of a 21st century economic development strategy. The International Economic Development Council reports that the availability of skilled workers is the No. 1 factor businesses consider when making location decisions. Not every job will require a college degree, but two-thirds of jobs will require some college-level education. Washington’s employers need qualified workers to be competitive.
Second, if we want folks to draw a paycheck rather than an unemployment check, education investment is smart. If you didn’t get a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is above 15 percent. If you have a BA or higher, it’s about 4 percent.
Third, to control expenses in social services and prisons, we should educate our kids. For example, college graduates are 35 percent of the U.S. population and only 5 percent of the prison population. Those without a high school diploma are 16 percent of the population, and an expensive 50 percent of our country’s offenders.
And finally, accessible, affordable, quality education is important for our kids. As a father of two little girls, I want my kids – and all kids in our state – to get a top-notch education that will prepare them for tomorrow’s jobs. I want to ensure that there’s a place for them in Washington’s colleges and universities so they don’t have to leave our state. And I want to ensure that those institutions are affordable, so the door to opportunity isn’t locked based on family income.
We need to do our best to focus limited dollars on serving students as well as possible. Moreover, the Legislature must end rules that force our colleges and universities to spend money unnecessarily. In fact, last year the Legislature passed a law requiring our four-year schools to implement performance agreements to improve accountability and get more students to graduation.
But suggesting that administrative expenses alone are jeopardizing the quality, accessibility and affordability of our colleges and universities is too simple.
The real problem is that the state has been starving the goose that lays the golden egg. The future – both for our state’s employers and for our kids – requires the state to stop that trend.