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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

April 11, 2009 at 9:00 AM

State’s higher-education budget

Cut the fat instead of raising tuition

Remember Gov. Christine Gregoire’s campaign words, “We have a budget surplus,” and, “I will not raise taxes or fees”?

You should be calling for her resignation rather supporting the ridiculous idea of increasing “taxes” on college students and their parents in the middle of a historical recession/depression [“Yes, to four-year tuition increases,” Opinion, editorial, April 9]. Gregoire approved unsustainable budgets and now wants college students and their families to pay for her excesses.

As a Western Washington University parent, I know it is an unaccountable financial black hole. Just ask a WWU ex-football player. WWU purposely walked away from hundreds of thousands of dollars in new booster donations to save football. The higher-education fix is in and The Seattle Times has fallen for it.

Gregoire needs to resign and the state auditor needs to go the universities and show them where they can cut the fat and deadwood. The WWU catalog is full of intellectually indulgent classes with questionable practical applications.

We need more productive degrees and graduates, not a blank check to higher education.

— Stan Sinex, Everett

Devastating impact on prospective students

There have been a number of articles in The Times about the impacts of state budget cuts on the universities, but I can relate the profound effects on one department, atmospheric sciences, and why tuition increases are the lesser evil.

This fall, I will teach atmospheric sciences 101, a 240-student introductory class that is normally staffed by myself and three teaching assistants (TAs). This allows both lectures and small sections, where students closely interact with an instructor who knows them as a person.

With three TAs, we can also grade challenging homework and non-multiple-choice exams, and provide substantial personal feedback. If the proposed budget cuts are realized, I was told by my chairman that two of the TAs will be removed, resulting in multiple-choice assignments and substantially undermining the students’ learning experience. This will be particularly true for the weaker students who need more personal help.

But another impact is even more worrisome — several good students who want to major in atmospheric sciences will never be admitted to the UW. I am the undergraduate adviser and see the lists of applicants who have indicated preference for my department. This year, something has really changed: far more students are on the waiting list. Applicants who would have easily gotten into the UW in the past are now being told there may not be spots for them. For students interested in atmospheric sciences, the results are devastating. The UW is the only atmospheric sciences department not only in the state, but in the entire Northwest. So for many, especially those who can’t afford to travel out of the region or pay out-of-state tuition, this is the end of their career in meteorology and the termination of a chance at their dream profession. Several times in recent weeks, I have talked to desperate students and parents whose career plans are now in shambles because they cannot gain entrance to the UW.

There is a way to deal with this: allow the higher education institutions to increase tuition beyond 7 percent, using some of the money to ensure that students with need are taken care of. By allowing tuition to rise, but with substantially increased financial aid, a large portion of the budget cutbacks could be offset, allowing the UW to keep our current registration numbers and saving instructional support (like TAs).

The alternative to tuition increases is a substantial reduction in access and quality at state higher-education institutions, the opposite of what is needed in this challenging period.

— Cliff Mass, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle

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