PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University President Samuel Smith has endorsed the report of the Governor’s 2020 Commission on the Future of Higher Education that stresses the importance of higher education to the state and calls for significant additional state funding.
The Commission report was submitted to Gov. Gary Locke on Tuesday. It sets out 15 specific recommendations needed to provide Washington residents in the year 2020 easy access a broad array of “world-class education and technical training opportunities and a culture that honors learning, teaching and research more highly than ever before.”
Smith commended the commission for its recognition that “a greater population of high school graduates and working adults are seeking access to quality public higher education in our state to meet workplace needs for continued learning. The members saw clearly that the efforts to expand access to college for Washington citizens must remain a high priority on the public agenda.”
According to the report, continuing today’s level of educational attainment would require serving 60,000 additional learners by 2020. But to raise the level of educational attainment enough to assure the state’s success in the 21st century will require making room for approximately 132,000 additional learners.
“The commission also recognizes the importance of allowing for new strategies to increase the autonomy and responsibility of institutional governing boards and streamlining the regulatory environment that has limited the flexibility of higher education institutions,” Smith said.
He said the university believes that the commission’s base funding goal for institutions at or above the average of public per-student funding of peer institutions in other states is appropriate and achievable.
The commission noted that research universities are currently below the average of their peers. “This is a dangerous condition for institutions that must compete globally to attract the faculty and researchers needed to maintain the level of learning and the discovery necessary for economic growth and civic and cultural excellence,” the report noted.
Smith said WSU supports the recommendation that would give institutions the authority to set tuition. “The economic marketplace for higher education has changed and institutions are entering an era of new competition with both for-profit and non-profit institutions in and outside our state,” he said. “This new environment will require that institutions have the flexibility to adjust costs and respond to new educational niches in a more nimble and focused manner.”
The commission’s recommendation that a statewide coordinator for distance education be designated also has WSU’s support, Smith said, assuming that coordination comes from one of the existing baccalaureate institutions.
The report stated that all public school students should know that if they work hard and do well in school, post-secondary education will be available to them and recommended a scholarship program to pay for up to two years tuition for those who earn a Certificate of Mastery.
WSU supports the recommendation if new funds are made available to establish the scholarships and that such a program that serves both the wealthy and the poor not erode the financial aid support so critical for least-advantaged students, Smith added.
He agreed with the report’s conclusion that success depends upon building on the strengths of today’s post-secondary education system, maintaining our public commitment to educational opportunity for all, and preparing for a century in which high levels of learning will be required. “This declaration provides an insightful blueprint for meeting one of the most significant education challenges the state has ever faced.”
NOTE TO EDITORS:
The 2020 Commission Report is online at http://www.wa.gov/ governor/2020/learning.htm