Western helps the entire state

10 May

How does Western benefit Washington? Taxpayers generally have a, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality. If their tax dollars are being used for something, they hope that service will benefit them at some point.

Western has scratched all our backs at some point, so to speak.

Even those members of our community who have never attended Western benefit from the services the university provides. Furthermore Western graduates are constantly making Washington a better state.

Western helps local businesses. From the Center for Economic Vitality, which partners with local businesses to help them grow, to the thousands of Western grads that work for two of Washington’s biggest corporations: Boeing and Microsoft.  Donna Janigo, Director of Constituent Records with Western Foundation, said more than 1,200 Western alums are currently working for Boeing. Western produces high quality graduates who are well qualified to enter the workforce upon graduation. These graduates benefit the state by joining the local workforce and stimulating the economy.

Western Washington University Career Services Center issues a survey to Western graduates each year, and from 2006 to 2009, there were a total of 1,170 graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, some of the most in-demand degrees in the state. Although not all of these graduates recorded what state they are now employed in, 83.7 percent of graduates who listed their state of employment were employed in Washington.

College grads use less state and federal resources. As I’ve mentioned on the blog previously, the higher the degree a person attains, the higher their average yearly income, and the less likely they are to be unemployed. This might go without saying, but college graduates are also less likely to use programs like welfare and food stamps. In 2007, those with a bachelor’s degree were 8 percent less likely to use welfare than those with a high school diploma, and 16 percent less likely to use food stamps.

The percentage of people with bachelor’s degrees who used welfare is significantly lower than people with only a high school diploma

College grads are also less likely to be sentenced to jail time. As our state’s prison system is facing serious budget cuts, we could use fewer prisoners!

College grads are more productive citizens. College grads are more likely to volunteer and to vote. In fact, 83 percent of bachelor’s degree holders were registered to vote in 2007, and 95 percent of those registered actually voted. Comparatively, 64 percent of those with only a high school diploma were registered to vote, and 86 percent of those registered really voted.

Western’s new tagline is “Active Minds Changing Lives,” and we walk the talk.

Western has been nationally recognized as a school whose students love to volunteer. It is ranked sixth on the U.S. Peace Corps 2010 listing of “Top Producing Colleges and Universities” in the medium-sized schools category.

*all statistics taken from the Higher Education Coordinating Board

Feds propose significant cuts to Pell Grant

30 Apr

 Although we generally focus on the happenings in Olympia, we also need to keep an eye on federal funding for higher education. Pell Grants, specifically, seem to be on the chopping block, and cuts to this program will seriously affect students.

First, President Barack Obama proposed in his 2012 spending plan to cut the portion of Pell Grants for summer classes. This proposal was adopted for the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Next, the Republican-dominated house approved a budget for 2012 that would reduce funding for the Pell Grant by 60 percent. The proposal would cut the maximum annual grant from $5,550 to $2,100 per year, according to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Although the Republican budget is not expected to pass, it’s clear the grant is at risk for further cuts.

So what does all this mean for Western?

Clara Capron, Director of Financial Aid at Western, said the university is experiencing a dramatic increase in Pell Grant recipients due to the economic recession. A higher proportion of parents and students have suffered decreases in income because of job terminations, layoffs and reductions. In addition, families are seeing a decrease in assets as they use up their savings, their houses are foreclosed on, or they face other economic hardships.

As a result, Western will see a projected 41 percent increase in Pell Grant recipients for the 2010-11 academic year compared to the 2008-09 year. Karen Copetas, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Planning, said an estimated 3,526 students will qualify for the Pell Grant this year, or a whopping 25 percent of Western’s student body.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed the 60 percent cut to the Pell Grant program, and if this budget were to pass, 1.4 million students nationally would no longer be eligible for Pell Grants.

Rep. Ryan justifies this cut by citing a 2005 study by the University of Oregon, which claimed that as funding for Pell Grants increased, so did tuition at universities. However, The Institute for College Access & Success says most economists who study higher education do not find a link between federal aid and increases in tuition.

As we’ve already discussed at the blog, generally tuition goes up when state funding declines. Although tuition may rise while funding for Pell Grants rises, it’s likely that state funding for universities was declining at the same time (in Washington, state funding for universities has been falling for more than a decade), and this prompted an increase in tuition.

As is the case with our elected officials in Olympia, we need to share our concerns about federal issues with our representatives in Washington, D.C.

Senate budget proposes big cuts to higher education

14 Apr

“The Senate budget has a smaller net reduction to higher education than either the governor’s budget or the house budget,” said Democratic Senator Derek Kilmer at the Senate budget press conference April 12th. After hearing these words, many Western students breathed a sigh of relief.

But budgets are complicated things, and after looking at the facts, students might feel like that sigh of relief was premature. 

The Senate’s budget has the lowest net reduction to higher education, but it actually proposes the biggest reduction in state funds for higher education. The Senate says their budget has the lowest net reduction because, although they propose the largest cuts to higher education, they also propose the highest tuition increases, which will help offset the reduction in state funds.

 All the budgets propose tuition increases for each of the next two years, but the Senate’s budget proposes the highest; 16 percent increases for Western. The Governor’s budget proposed tuition increases of 11 percent while the House of Representatives proposed 13 percent increases for Western.

So, the Senate is proposing the biggest reductions in state funding and the highest increases in tuition? Yeah, that sigh was definitely premature.

That’s not to say the Senate’s budget is the “worst” for higher education. Honestly, none of them are particularly appealing, but there are pros and cons to each of them. Let’s look at how each of the budgets compare in the table below: In the end, all the budgets propose huge cuts to higher education, and the biggest difference between them is the increases in tuition. If this legislative session has showed us anything, it’s that the state will continue to disinvest in public higher education.

Although no one is sure how the university will implement proposed cuts, from the looks of these proposals, we know tuition will be increasing significantly. The higher the proposed tuition increases, the lower the net cut to the universities, as shown by the table. Students are paying more to preserve the quality of education that Western provides.

Now we’re waiting on the next budget, which will reflect a compromise between the Governor’s proposed budget, the House’s, and the Senate’s. Until then, it’s never too late to learn more about higher education funding. Check out the useful links section on this blog for more information, or to look at the Senate’s budget for yourself, click here.

House of Representatives Releases Proposed Budget

8 Apr

We can all breathe a small sigh of relief. The House of Representatives released their proposed budget and, although it proposes tuition increases of 11.5 to 13 percent for each of the next two years and cuts Western’s budget by $47 million, the budget could have been worse.

“It was bad for higher education,” Western President Bruce Shepard said at the April 4 Western Faculty Senate meeting. “It was not bad for Western.”

Legislators might have gone easier on Western because there was a swell of support for higher education that was unlike any other biennium. While representatives once said that they never heard from people who are concerned about higher education, this is no longer the case. According to the United Faculty of Washington State blog, legislators so far have received over 5,000 emails, over 1,000 phone calls, over 500 letters, and over 1,200 signatures on petitions relating to higher education.

In addition, legislators recognized that per student funding was very different at each of Washington’s higher education institutions. Washington State University, University of Washington, The Evergreen State College, Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University were all receiving more funding per student than Western. During this round of budget cuts, Western received the smallest cuts so that funding per student is slightly closer to equal between the institutions.

Despite this groundswell of support, some officials in Olympia still seem to overlook how amazing our state universities are. Representative Ross Hunter said at a House operating budget press conference that he wanted to tie higher education funding to making improvements in universities. “I’d like college presidents to wake up in the morning and think, ‘how is that kid going to get that class to graduate on time?’ I want them to think about that every minute of every day,” said Hunter at the press conference. He went on to say that decreasing the time to degree by one year at universities would make them 20 percent more productive.

As I’ve pointed out on News for Vikings, Washington already has the most productive universities in the country. Furthermore, President Bruce Shepard said in his letter to the legislature that decreasing state funding for Western would actually increase the time to degree.

Legislators propose tuition increases to recoup lost funding

29 Mar

Tuition increases: no one wants to talk about them, and even worse, no one wants to pay them! But many legislators are proposing tuition increases to make up for a decrease in state funding for Washington state universities. Unfortunately, President Shepard has said that increasing tuition alone will not be enough to recoup the lost funding.

Representative Hans Zieger introduced House Bill 1654 in January, which prompted a Western Front article about the bill, and a general outcry from Western students. If passed, House Bill 1654 would require universities to charge students out of state or graduate level tuition if they earn more than 125 percent of the credits required for their major, remain on academic probation for more than one quarter, or drop 25 percent of their course load before the grading period ends.

Senator Joseph Zarelli

This means that if a Washington resident was attending Western as an undergrad and taking 15 credits (the average course load), and dropped a four or five-credit class, they would be charged out of state or graduate level tuition. The intent of this bill is presumably to encourage students to graduate on time, but it could penalize students who need the most help – students on probation, who are dropping classes, or who are taking excessive credits.

More recently, Senator Joseph Zarelli sponsored Senate Bill 5686, which would require students to pay a fee if they’ve taken excess credits or have obtained prior degrees. The fee would not be less than the cost of instruction at Western, and it would be paid in addition to tuition.

Representatives from community colleges and four-year universities said that they appreciated the intent of Senate Bill 5686, but that the system seemed counterproductive. The bill would require the establishment of a new and possibly costly system for monitoring students who have taken excess credits, and these costs would outweigh the funds generated from the new fee.

In addition to the increases proposed by these bills, the Governor’s proposed budget would raise tuition at Washington universities 11 percent each of the next two years. However, the legislature hasn’t decided whether tuition setting authority will rest with individual universities or with the state.

Washington has the most efficient universities in the country

14 Mar

People are often shocked to hear that Washington’s universities are among the worst funded in the country, because they are among the most highly rated in terms of graduation rates and student satisfaction. Washington has the best graduation rates of any state in the country, so it sounds a little strange when legislators and other officials tell universities to “do more with less” and to become “more efficient and accountable.”

Someone might want to remind those legislators that Washington’s universities are already the most efficient in the country.

Under the Governor's budget, the state will fund 31% of WWU's budget while families and students fund 69%

Over the past 20 years, Western has increased its student enrollment by 60% while still maintaining high graduation rates. As President Bruce Shepard said in his letter to the State Legislature, “an institution that can increase quality production by over 60% while losing 50% of state funding has to be doing something right in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.”

Others might say that because we were able to achieve these great results despite the decrease in state funding, why should funding be increased? When answering this, we need to take into account that the most serious higher education budget cuts have only occurred in very recent years. In 1994, Washington taxpayers supported about 72% of the cost of instruction at Western. That is to say, 72% of Western’s operating budget was funded by the state. That number slowly fell to 60% and then dropped drastically in 2009-11 to 44%. Some effects of these funding decreases have already been seen, like larger class sizes, less course offerings and less janitorial services, but in terms of graduation rates, the effects won’t be seen for a few more years.

Of course, as state funding drops dramatically, tuition increases dramatically to make up the difference. As we’ve already talked about on News for Vikings, the cost of a college education has remained fairly stable. Tuition, on the other hand, has skyrocketed because state funding has declined so sharply. People often forget that cutting state funding means that, by default, tuition will increase. When one goes down, the other goes up.

While Western will always strive to be more efficient, decreasing funding to higher education might not be the best way to reach this goal.

Legislators consider revising the State Need Grant

9 Mar

Republican senators proved that they want to find new ways to hold higher education students accountable for their education by introducing Senate Bill 5787, which would drastically change the Washington State Need Grant.

Senator Randi Becker sponsored the bill

Republican senators, as well as Democratic Senator Paull Shin, proposed that the Washington State Need Grant, which provides financial assistance to thousands of low income students, be reformed. If the new bill is passed, students applying for a state need grant would be judged not only by their financial neediness, but by their academic merit. Students with an “A” average would be eligible to receive as much as 115 percent of their unmet financial need, while a student with a “C” average would only be eligible for 50 percent.

“The intent is not to penalize students,” said Senator Randi Becker, who sponsored the bill, “but to reward them for academic achievement.”

Representatives from Washington’s universities, college, community colleges, and technical colleges were overwhelmingly opposed to the new bill. “One of the leading reasons students withdraw from college is changes in financial aid,” said Julie Garber, representing The Evergreen State College.

Sherry Burkey, Director of Government Relations for Western Washington University, agreed that there were many problems with the bill. “Financial aid offices are not immune to cutbacks,” Burkey told the Higher Education Committee. “They would be revising and rewarding financial aid throughout the year depending on academic progress. We’re concerned about increased workload.” In fact, Western’s financial aid office is already working with a reduced staff. Burkey also pointed out that the legislature would need to adjust the bill to reflect a GPA scale rather than letter grades if it were to be implemented in universities and colleges.

University representatives also reminded the committee that students in science programs like chemistry and biology often have lower grades than students in liberal arts programs. Representatives were concerned that this would deter low income students from earning science degrees, which are in increasingly high demand across the state.

According to the Washington Promise Stature, changing the Washington State Need Grant would primarily affect first generation and nontraditional college students. Kim Smith, a first generation college student who went back to school at 36 years old, was only able to complete her degree with a state need grant because she never qualified for Pell Grants. “I would hate to see others without that help,” Smith said.

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