Today, in response to yesterday's senate budget announcement showing harder hits to higher ed than the house budget (the house is kinder to K-12), we hear from a university student.—Eds.
Yesterday the Senate Ways and Means committee unveiled their proposed supplemental budget to deal with the lingering financial woes of the previous biennium before delving into the next one. Buried amongst numerous other cuts was an extremely troubling proposal regarding the State Need Grant and tuition funds collected at our four-year institutions.
The committee proposed to cut $25 million from the State Need Grant, our state’s largest financial aid program that helps more than 70,000 low income students attend college. Thankfully, the state found a way to mitigate these cuts, but the manner they accomplished that task is almost as disconcerting as the potential cuts themselves. In order to prevent damage to the program, the committee backfilled the cut by taking $25 million dollars out of tuition funds across our higher education institutions. This includes substantial sums from each university, including $5.6 million from the University of Washington and $1 million from Western Washington University.
Tuition money has always rightly been put directly into the institutions for the benefit of the students. It goes to our cost of instruction, either in our facilities or our faculty. It goes to help fund the support services that keep our universities vibrant and welcoming places where students’ learning is unencumbered. Regardless of the specifics it has always been spent on our universities, because there is a fundamental understanding that our tuition is what we as students are paying for our education. It is a fee with an express purpose. Until now.
This is an entirely unprecedented move by the state, and we as students believe it violates a fundamental, if unstated, compact between students, institutions and the legislature. The committee has taken money which students have spent for an expressed purpose, their own education, and appropriated it to a new source of their choosing. It does not matter than the new source is funding for a worthy program, this policy decision alters a hitherto unbroken policy about where tuition goes. The money is taken by the state, moved around and made to appear as though they are funding something themselves. In actuality it is students who are funding a new program of the state’s choosing, and they have no say in the matter.
There is a whole litany of issues that students, faculty, administrators and legislators are grappling with in higher education this session. There are always going to be disagreements about what the best policy will be, and we as students look forward to engaging in conversations about how to come to mutual agreement on a wide range of issues as we move forward. Using tuition to backfill state cuts is not one of them. It is one of most flagrant violations of government trust that we as students have ever seen, and it will absolutely not be tolerated.
Quinn Majeski is Director of Government Relations for the Associated Students of the University of Washington