When the legislature starts cutting budgets, there's never much doubt about where it will begin to hack. Waste, fraud, and abuse? No, higher education.
As the legislature gets down to the end-of-the-session deadline for making budget decisions, maybe there is a silver lining for the future, if not for the present. At least we seem to be talking more than in some recent years about the hacking of college offerings and the squeezing of struggling students and their families for ever more tuition.
Credit a Seattle Times front page report on Sunday, April 3, with helping to attract the attention. The Times' Katherine Long described how the UW will enroll more out-of-state students in the next freshman class, squeezing out some top in-state students who had hoped to go to the Northwest's premier public university.
Although the need for the UW to make marginal moves to increase revenues was obvious, the story led to lots of complaining of the how-dare-they variety. As Times columnist Danny Westneat noted, the UW decisions were largely dictated by none other than the state's voters in approving just about any ballot measure that would cut revenues.
An Associated Press article, picked up by The News Tribune in Tacoma and other publications, took an in-depth view of the cuts and the political logic that facilitates outcomes that are illogical for the state's future. There was this honest explanation for the college cuts by Republican Rep. Larry Haler of Richland: "Because we can." Indeed, as he alluded to, the state constitution makes it hard to cut most education spending for kindergarten through high school. Haler also put the end result for college students and institutions into clear-eyed perspective: "It's insane. Our whole approach is that we hope it doesn’t affect things, but we know that it’s going to."
There also has been a healthy degree of discussion of the issues on op-ed pages. A PEMCO Financial Services official and a labor leader, both members of the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges, wrote over the weekend in Spokane's Spokesman-Review about the economic problems for the state's future from the prospect of adding big new cuts on top of ones made two years ago. They warned, "Additional deep cuts will not only greatly increase wait lists but will also close the door on tens of thousands of students." The Times published an opinion article by Les Purce, president of The Evergreen State College, arguing that cuts to higher education and social services alike harm the state's future. That was a worthy attempt to break free of the either-or choice often posed.
The Seattle Times, "Why straight-A's may not get you into UW this year."
Seattle Times, Danny Westneat, "UW gives us what we asked for."
Associated Press (The News Tribune), "State budget batters higher education."
The Spokesman-Review, "School cuts can backfire."
Seattle Times, Les Purce op-ed, "Higher education and social services provide critical opportunities for citizens."
(Disclosure: Joe Copeland, who wrote this article, is married to a community-college administrator.)