University of Washington President Michael Young spent a day in Olympia earlier this week, and came away with concerns about how some policy decisions are being made without regard to funding issues, he told The Seattle Times editorial board Thursday.
In an hour-long meeting with editorial writers, Young said that legislators are making broad policy decisions about higher education — such as tuition freezes — without also taking into consideration the need to increase funding. That’s largely a matter of timing – the Legislature won’t be able to write a budget until after it receives the latest revenue forecast, in March.
“The conversation in Olympia has been going in the wrong direction for the last few weeks,” he said. Among his concerns:
- A tuition freeze. Young said he worries that legislators are discussing bills that would freeze tuition next year without also recognizing that a freeze would require an increase in funding to the state’s universities. The six presidents of the state’s four-year schools have said they would freeze tuition if the Legislature would increase higher education funding by $225 million over the 2013-15 biennium – an increase of about 20 percent over the last biennium. “Policy discussions need to be attached to budget discussions, and at the moment they’re not,” he said.
- Differential tuition. UW officials say they’ve lost on this one – that is, they expect a bill to pass that would take away the university’s ability to charge higher tuition rates for some degrees. (The full House has already passed a bill, HB 1043, to do just that, and on Thursday a similar bill, SB 5835, cleared a Senate committee.) The problem: Charging a higher tuition would reset the payout for the state’s prepaid tuition plan to a higher rate, causing financial woes for the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) plan. Young is no fan of GET — he calls it “a really quite wonderful subsidy for the upper middle class,” and notes that many states have abandoned similar programs because it’s so hard to price advanced tuition credits appropriately.
- The impact of Initiative 1185 on tuition increases. State Sen. Pam Roach and Initiative supporter Tim Eyman both say they believe the initiative takes tuition-setting authority away from the governing boards of state universities. But Young, who is a lawyer, called it “a silly argument” and said he believes the Attorney General’s office has made it clear that the Legislature can delegate tuition-setting authority to the university’s governing boards.
Young also discussed the impact of federal sequestration, which could go into effect next week and would be a big problem for the UW because it gets more federal funding than any other public research university in the country. Most of that money comes from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation; Young said the UW could lose $85 million under sequestration, which might cause some long-running research programs to close when their funding runs out, leading to job losses.