Universities propose joint budget to Regents

For the first time, Washington State University will present to the state Legislature a joint budget proposal developed with the University of Washington.

“I’ve never seen two independent universities and boards come together to propose something like this,” said V. Lane Rawlins, WSU president. “We started out with efforts to cooperate to maximize our resources. UW is a good ally for us,” he said.

“We recognize our commonality of interest and shared commitment to the state,” added Mark A. Emmert, UW president, while in Pullman late last month for a press conference and joint Board of Regents meeting, as well as the Apple Cup football game.

That shared commitment to the state is mentioned first and foremost in the joint budget proposal. The universities emphasize their roles as Washington’s two research universities and the role that their research has played and can continue to play in the state’s economic development.

The proposal shows how state appropriations for one year, to both universities combined, of $497 million resulted in a return — from tuition, outside funding for research and outreach work, and other sources — of $3.04 billion.

“Think of subsidizing a business,” Rawlins said. “That’s a pretty good return. Plus, we’re also doing other very important things besides the business of research — like teaching and preparing the next generation.”

If accepted, WSU’s share of the budget for the next biennium would be $479 million, up by about 28 percent from the current biennium.

Four main budget topics
The joint budget proposal has four major sections. In addition, in compliance with new labor legislation, the two research universities have requested funding for salary increases for classified staff. And a separate item updates the Legislature on the self-studies conducted last summer and fall at WSU and UW branch campuses.

The four main budget items are:

1) Core funding per student. Washington is 49th among the states in total higher education funding per student following declines during 1991-2003, the proposal states.

“The need for funding on a per-student basis addresses our ability to offer quality education,” Rawlins said, adding that the universities cannot give the students the quality it promised them if it does not get the money to do so. Of this increase, approximately 80 to 90 percent would go to increasing faculty salaries and to new faculty positions, he said.

Catching up with competing states will take time, Rawlins said, but the 2005 budget proposal makes a start by requesting $75 million for UW and nearly $51 million for WSU for the 2005-2007 biennium.

Both universities are requesting that the Legislature enact a law that would allow them to launch a concurrent effort to improve quality through performance contracts. These agreements between the state and institutions of higher education would involve negotiated goals, priorities, performance measures and resources, as well as outcomes by which success could be evaluated.

“Performance contracts have the potential to reshape the debate over higher education,” Emmert said. “We need to define quality and determine what it costs. Then we will know that if we get ‘this much’ money, we can take ‘this many’ students and ‘this quality’ will be the outcome. Performance contracts can help us reconcile what all these different variables mean.”

2) Research and technology transfer.
“We want to develop state-funded research to support the basic economic industries of our state,” Rawlins said. And the universities want to share their expertise for transferring that research into the private sector where it can aid economic growth in Washington, he added. To do so, they are seeking $13.4 million for UW and $7.1 million for WSU for the 2005-2007 biennium.

Part of this would fund research efforts, said Karl Boehmke, WSU executive budget director. It would be used to attract outstanding faculty, develop equipment and infrastructure, and provide matching funds needed to attract significant outside grant money.

Research areas targeted in the budget include bioproducts to enhance health; infectious diseases and pests; biomedical genome sciences; and healthy, sustainable food systems.

Part of the budget request would expand the efforts of the research universities to foster economic development by promoting the transition of research from the laboratory to the marketplace. These technology transfer efforts would be coordinated by the WSU Office of Research and UW TechTransfer.

Finally, part of the request would fund yet another area of collaboration touted by the universities — the new Policy Consensus Center, which aims to provide university expertise to enhance policy development and multiparty dispute resolution in the region.

“The center can deploy a variety of resources to help resolve what are otherwise intractable public policy problems,” Emmert said. The contentious issue of water policy, including buying back water rights for instream use, is one example of such a problem.

“We are confident the center has the capacity to do some uniquely beneficial things for the state,” Emmert said.

3) Enrollment increases. The two universities are also confident in their capacity to expand enrollment, as long as the Legislature provides money for both increased enrollment and for the core funding mentioned above.

“You have to take care of the students you already have before you look at adding more,“ Rawlins said. “Unless we get core money, we won’t take enrollment money. We won’t expand if we can’t accommodate what we already have.

“In order to maintain excellence in some fields, we may have to eliminate some,” he said. “If we must choose between quantity or quality, we’ll cut quantity. We may downsize. We’re making some real hard choices.”

The universities already plan to reduce the sizes of the freshmen classes entering in Fall 2005, Rawlins said. And, depending on the response from the Legislature, “that may be how we maintain in the future — lower enrollment.”

In addition, Rawlins said, “I would be very surprised if there are not tuition increases,” whether or not the Legislature funds the WSU/UW requests. Rawlins said he does not mind asking students to help pay for their education, as long as the state also supports its share and the students are getting the quality education they are helping to pay for.

For expanding enrollment, the joint budget seeks nearly $13.3 million for UW and just over $15 million for WSU for the 2005-2007 biennium.

For WSU, growth in the number of students for the biennium at the various campuses would be: Pullman, 500; Spokane, 40; Tri-Cities, 90; Vancouver, 200; high-demand programs, 200.

4) Preserving veterinary medicine. Legislative funding is requested to replace students and money withdrawn from WSU’s veterinary medicine program by the state of Oregon after Oregon State University established its own veterinary school. “The UW has agreed to support this request by WSU,” Rawlins said, commending that spirit of cooperation.

Though it will cost just over $2 million for the 2005-2007 biennium, Rawlins said the benefit is that more Washington students are able to attend veterinary school.

Just the beginning
Meanwhile, the two universities are beginning to see the benefit of their work together.

“The responses I get from legislators have been very positive,” Emmert said. “They would much rather see the lead universities cooperating, rather than squabbling.”

It remains to be seen if that positive response will translate into positive legislative action when the budget is presented after the first of the year. Nonetheless, Emmert said, the effort at mutual support has been constructive and rewarding. “I hope this is just the beginning,” he said.

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