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How budget cuts short-changed the UW

Some straight talk about complicated budget maneuvers, making clear that the University was one of the biggest losers in the nation, and the state.
Change in state spending, 2001-03 to 2009-11

Change in state spending, 2001-03 to 2009-11 Ed Lazowska (click to enlarge)

Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. (UW)

Ed Lazowska, who holds the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. (UW) None

Confused about how the University of Washington fared in the 2009-11 biennial budget? So was I — and I’m an insider, having devoted my entire career to building one of UW’s highest impact programs, Computer Science & Engineering. Here's what I found out, after doing some research on the question.

There can be room for honest debate about whether the decisions that were made by the legislature and the governor were smart in terms of the future of the state, but there shouldn’t be any confusion regarding the facts. As we enter another difficult budget session, it’s important to think about where those decisions put the university and what steps will best position our region and the kids who grow up here for the future.

The 2009-11 state operating budget reduced the UW’s funding by $214 million ($107 million per year), a 27 percent reduction in state funding compared to the prior biennium. To partially offset this cut, the state used one-time federal stimulus funding (adding back 3 percent or $25 million), plus tuition increases (adding back 11 percent or $90 million). There were also budget additions for restricted line items such as employee benefit increases (amounting to 5 percent or $43 million).

Washington’s cuts to higher education were the fourth highest in the nation (after Montana, Ohio, and South Carolina). Within the higher education budget for the state, the University of Washington fared particularly poorly — roughly twice as poorly as higher education overall. This is not just a phenomenon of the current recession. In fact, since 2001-03, state spending is up by 38 percent, but state support for UW is down by 12 percent. State support for community and technical colleges is up by 28 percent, despite the fact that Washington already ranks 5th best in the nation in public community college capacity per capita, but a lowly 49th in public bachelors (four-year degrees) capacity per capita.

The principal role of great public universities is to provide socioeconomic upward mobility to the citizens of their states. In this regard, the University of Washington does very well and remains highly accessible. Here are some of the relevant figures: 88 percent of UW undergraduates are Washington state residents; 21 percent of UW undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients (receiving federal aid to low-income students); 30 percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are first-generation college students.

Even after the 14 percent tuition increase for resident undergraduates in 2009-10, UW tuition remains the lowest among "Global Challenge" peers (ten similar universities in states with economies like Washington’s, chosen by Olympia for comparative purposes). Currently, UW tuition and fees total $7,692 per year. WSU is slightly higher at $8,488. The major private universities in the state charge between 3.5 and 4.5 times as much — from $27,810 at Seattle Pacific University to $36,940 at Whitman. The Husky Promise program guarantees that any academically qualified student whose family qualifies for a Pell Grant or State Need Grant (income up to $54,500 for a family of four) will attend UW tuition-free.

Further cuts will surely erode both accessibility and quality. Here are some examples of the impact of this biennium’s cuts from the perspective of my unit, Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), a program of the UW College of Engineering that is ranked among the top ten computer science programs in the nation.

UW CSE, and every other academic unit in the UW College of Engineering, took a 10 percent cut in its permanent budget this biennium. For UW CSE, the effect of this was to roll back the only enrollment increase we have been granted in the past decade. At the undergraduate level, UW CSE can accommodate only about one-third of the students who apply — these are current UW students seeking to major in Computer Science or Computer Engineering. At the graduate level, UW CSE can accommodate less than 10 percent of the students who apply — outstanding students from across the state, the nation, and the world.

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Posted Tue, Dec 22, 7:46 a.m. Inappropriate

UW's approach in Olympia has failed badly over the past 10 years and Mark Emmert is trying to recover from the damage done by his predecessor, but at $1 million per year, I'd like him to shake up his state outreach and Olympia advocacy program and start getting results! Community colleges are wonderful assets, but as the Prof. argues, we're underinvesting in the kids who'll keep us competitive into the future.

Posted Tue, Dec 22, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

No doubt the U was hurt in the budget cuts... more coming up. No doubt the cuts impact higher education in the state. No doubt the cuts are more than occurred in selected states. And no doubt the case must be made to protect higher education from deeper cuts next year. But the real story here might be which budget categories did not suffer ~30% reductions. Other areas hit equally hard were the new Department of Commerce and public works projects. The Public Works Trust Fund, for instance, was cut 100%, ~$400 million. What priorities did the legislature pick over education, water and sewer emergencies, and economic development?


Posted Tue, Dec 22, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

It seems like apostasy to speak such a thing aloud, by why look at the outright absurdity of what the U pays for it's football team. All the post-facto claptrap about providing scholarships and opportunities for kids should be weighed in relation to the 2 million dollar salary the Sarkisian gets. Universities should be about EDUCATION, not the entertainment of the slovenly and civically-stunted sports-going masses.

Posted Tue, Dec 22, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

@rootwinterguard: the "U" - and for that matter, the state - pay ZERO for the football team. The UW's athletics department is entirely self-supporting; in fact, revenues generated by the football team fund a number of athletic scholarships for student-athletes in non-revenue generating sports. Husky football makes it possible for U Dub to comply with Title IX.


Posted Tue, Dec 22, 2:38 p.m. Inappropriate

"The Public Works Trust Fund, for instance, was cut 100%, ~$400 million. What priorities did the legislature pick over education, water and sewer emergencies, and economic development?"

The same "priority" they rob every budget to fund: in a word, salmon. The Puget Sound Partnership's share of the general fund was increased 665%; from $999,999 last budget to $7,652,000 in the one upcoming.


Posted Tue, Dec 22, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

What a thoroughly shoddy analysis! The numbers Prof. Lazowska seems to be referencing can be found here: http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/budget/lbns/2009he.pdf. Go to page 281. What we see there is original 2007-09 General Fund expenditure authority of $792 million. We see $214 million of "cuts" but this is from the "2009-11 Maintenance Level" of $834 million. However, you will note (pg 278) that enrollment is expected to DECREASE by 1,980 FTE students next year. So there's the old shell game - "cuts" from an inflated "current services" budget are made to seem much more drastic than they actually are.

Taking the 2009 supplemental into account, the General Fund support for UW was $775.6 million in the 2007-2009 biennium. GF support for 2009-11 is scheduled to be $621.1 million, a cut of $154.5 million or 20%. However, as the professor points out, we've got an additional $90 million in tuition plus an additional $25 million in stimulus funds. I don't see the other $43 million he referenced for benefit increases. But those three items total $158 million, actually more than making up for the decrease in general fund dollars.

Now look to the bottom line: total all-sources spending authority for UW is $4,060,644,000 for 2007-09. It is $4,278,377,000 for 2009-11. Yeah, a 5.4% INCREASE in actual dollars spent, in a deflationary environment, to educate fewer students. Count me unconvinced that the UW is in a dire funding emergency. Everyone knows that higher education spending has consistently grown beyond the inflation rate for decades, and this budget just extends the streak. Time for some re-engineering down at Montlake.

Posted Thu, Dec 31, 1:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Malamute is right -- UW football does indeed underwrite other parts of the school's sports programs, but the proposed stadium rennovations do not fall under this category.


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