Proposals aimed at enhancing employee compensation are the centerpiece of Washington State University’s 2023-25 biennial budget requests submitted to the State of Washington this week.
WSU requested $34.5 million in additional state contributions over the next two years to address employee pay. That funding would pay for a 4% compensation increase for WSU faculty and staff the first year of the biennium and a 3% increase in the second year. WSU also requested that full funding be provided for pay increases for civil service employees to keep them in line with the wages earned by other state employees.
“Employee compensation remains our highest priority heading into the next budget cycle,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “We will work hard to ensure our faculty and staff are competitively compensated in the years to come.”
The university’s 2023-25 State Biennial Operating Budget request also goes further, asking that state fund 100% of annual compensation increases for WSU employees in the years to come. In recent years, compensation increases were contingent on WSU raising tuition to fund them alongside additional state dollars.
By reducing the amount of funding needed from tuition increases, WSU would be able to more reliably address salary equity issues as well as recruit and retain top talent, said Colleen Kerr, vice president of external relations and chief legislative officer for the WSU system
“We know that there are structural issues within the university that have happened over time and having this type of an investment allows us to do that,” Kerr said during the WSU Board of Regent’s Finance and Administration Committee meeting Sept. 15. “It’s a really important piece of our conversation with the state.”
This year, classified staff received 3.25% increases on July 1, while employees in bargaining units saw raises in accordance with applicable bargaining agreements. Faculty, administrative professionals and graduate students will receive a 2.5% increase on Sept. 1. The university also has been able to work with state lawmakers to increase the portion of direct state funding that pays for compensation increases.
While requests related to employee compensation are the largest item in its operating budget requests, there are several other initiatives WSU is looking for additional support from the state:
- $4.4 million over two years to support the continued accreditation of the WSU College of Nursing, including granting salary increases to nurses and paying for equipment enhancements.
- $1.6 million to establish a new bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work at WSU Tri-Cities to meet the workforce needs of the state and region, particularly in behavioral and mental health roles.
- $2.5 million to establish a two-track Bachelor of Public Health degree. An infectious disease major would be available at WSU Pullman while WSU Spokane and WSU Vancouver would offer a behavioral health major.
- $1.2 million to enhance core support and fiscal stability for the Ruckelshaus Center, a joint WSU-University of Washington center that fosters collaborative public policy in Washington and the Pacific Northwest.
The university is also seeking state funds to address collective bargaining agreements as well as maintenance and operations of new buildings and other improvements on the Vancouver and Pullman campuses.
Marty Dickinson, chair of the WSU Board of Regents, volunteered herself and her fellow regents to be advocates for the university as the budgeting process takes shape.
“This is a really big deal,” Dickinson said, “and it’s important to our faculty and to the overall health and future of our university, so whatever you can do to engage us, call on us, and activate us.”
WSU leaders are also preparing to submit the 2023-25 Capital Budget requests, which outlines the university’s facilities and infrastructure needs.
In total, WSU plans to request $155 million for capital projects. The university is breaking its request down into three categories:
- Minor works, which aim to use funds to preserve and renew existing buildings and equipment in the short term
- Sustained investments that span multiple budget cycles and create surge space to allow for the eventual demolition and renovation of sub-optimal facilities
- Standalone projects that are required to meet a program or deferred maintenance need
The largest of the standalone projects is for a new Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture facility. WSU is requesting $40 million in state funding to build the new facility, with a further $40 million of philanthropic funds being contributed to the project. It’s the first time WSU is attempting to leverage non-state funds in its budget requests.
In April, WSU announced a landmark $20 million gift from Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) in support of Voiland and its future students.
The university is also requesting $7 million for the Spokane Biomedical and Health Sciences Building project in the 2023-25 capital budget. Plans call for two smaller buildings on the WSU Spokane campus to be demolished to allow for the construction of a new $60 million clinical education building on the campus.
Funding to renovate the Knott Dairy and Bustad Hall, the home of the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine is also being requested. The latter would allow existing space to be adapted to expand the simulation education program offered to veterinary students.
The WSU Board of Regents reviewed the operating and capital budget requests at their September meeting. More information on the budget requests is available on the WSU Board of Regents website.