Members of the WSU Board of Regents have set tuition rates for the upcoming academic year and extended the contract of President Kirk Schulz.
The decisions came during the board’s Friday meeting, which also included approval of the university’s new strategic plan and its Athletics budget.
Tuition rates for undergraduate and graduate students were increased 2.5% for academic year 2020-2021. For a resident undergraduate student, the increase represents an additional annual cost of $249.
“Every year this is the most difficult decision that we make, choosing to look at increasing tuition cost,” Regent Lisa Schauer said. “This year it feels even more difficult to make this decision, given the pandemic and the riots on systematic racism.”
Schauer was one of several regents who spoke about the increase during the meeting, which also included discussion of several budget-cutting measures underway throughout the WSU system to reduce the university’s overall operating costs. Regents also considered the efforts that went into formulating alternative plans, as well as the significance of the current fiscal challenges.
Regents Ron Sims and Enrique Cerna discussed the need to track the impact of tuition increases on student’s ability to attend WSU.
“I’m really worried that we are going to see over time the reduction of students who do not speak English as a primary language, students of color, students with handicaps, students out of poorer neighborhoods,” Sims said. “I worry about the loss of that kind of opportunity for those populations.”
In a related decision, the board decided against increasing student Services and Activities Fees for the upcoming academic year.
The tuition decision comes at a time when WSU currently is engaged in a system-wide budget planning exercise aimed at cutting $37 million from its operating budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Departments across the university system have been asked to formulate plans for cutting 10% from their current budgets. Other measures, such as employee furloughs, are also being considered.
Additionally, WSU has instituted a hiring freeze on non-essential positions, as well as halting many types of non-essential expenditures. Salaries for university leaders have been frozen, while others, including President Schulz, have taken voluntary pay cuts.
Schulz contract extended
Regents voted during the meeting to extend Schulz’s employment contract by five years. At his request, Schulz will not see any compensation changes, having already taken a 10% salary cut, and other self-imposed cutbacks.
“In the interest of stability and continuity, it was important to the Board of Regents that we offer a five-year extension to the president’s contract,” Brett Blankenship, chair of the WSU Board of Regents, said. “Despite the many challenges facing Washington State University and higher education in general, WSU remains on a glide path to continued success.”
In addition to the salary cut, which continues through June 30, 2021, Schulz gave up a $50,000 retention bonus called for in his original WSU contract, and relinquished use of a Seattle condominium that was purchased prior to his arrival at WSU for overnight presidential trips to Puget Sound. The condo will be sold and the proceeds used to assist with the university’s budget challenges. He’s also giving up use of university-provided vehicles.
“Everyone within the university will have to share in the pain of the difficult financial situation brought on by COVID-19, but President Schulz has led the way with his voluntary reduction in salary and other contractual benefits,” Blankenship said.
Schulz, who was appointed WSU’s 11th president in 2016, thanked the board for its vote of confidence in extending his contract.
“I am grateful and honored by the support the Board of Regents has extended to me during my time as President,” Schulz said. “WSU is fortunate to have such a strong board guiding the direction of our university. The Board of Regents are steadfastly focused on WSU’s land-grant mission. Together we are continuing to make a positive impact all across the state of Washington and around the world.”
Blankenship also praised Schulz for his enthusiasm and tenacity which became evident during a 360-degree review of his performance as president so far. The review cited improvements to the university’s finances, the realization of plans for health education in Spokane and Schulz’s public accessibility as chief accomplishments during his first four years in office.
“WSU is fortunate that there is such close alignment between the Board of Regents and President Schulz,” Blankenship said. “This is a steadying force for the institution and positions us well to address the challenges that COVID-19 has brought.”
The Fiscal Year 2021 Athletics Budget was unanimously approved by regents. During committee meetings on Thursday, Athletics Director Pat Chun noted that the department has set a new single-year fundraising record with approximately $26 million, up roughly $10 million from any single year prior.
“We operate as one of the most fiscally efficient athletic departments in the PAC-12 and amongst the five major conferences,” Chun said. “We do not receive any appropriated funds. Prior to COVID-19 we had already surpassed our single year fundraising record.”
President Kirk Schulz praised members of his executive team as well as shared governance groups for their efforts responding to the challenges associated with a global pandemic as well as the ongoing reckoning with historic and system inequality.
Members of the Board of Regents also voted to approve the 2020-2025 WSU System Strategic Plan, which outlines the university’s goals for the next five years. While the plan goes into immediate effect, it is an evolving document, allowing the university to be nimble in the face of new challenges.
Regents also approved the sale of 74 acres of property in Bonney Lake, Washington and two naming requests – renaming WSU Vancouver entrance road to NE Sam Smith Drive in honor of past WSU President Sam Smith and naming the headhouse at the new Plant Growth Faculty at the Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in honor of Ruth Wyler, an alumna and advocate of the work of WSU Extension.