In an attempt to involve students in what will likely be a devastating budget year for the University of Washington (the state's 2010-2011 budget includes a 26 percent cut tot he university), UW student regent Ben Golden and the university's student association created a survey called (actual title): "Identifying the 'Least Bad Options' for Coping with Decreased State Support for the UW."
With 11 percent of the UW student population responding to the survey (and 4,075 comments), one surprising theme emerged: Students overwhelmingly said they cared more about the quality of their education than how much it cost. Nearly 85 percent ranked educational quality "exceptionally important," compared to just over 60 percent who ranked affordability that highly.
That response is even more surprising given that 17 percent of students who were surveyed said that a large tuition increase might force then to drop out, and 50 percent said it would require them to take out additional loans.
While students seemed to accept the idea of a tuition increase to preserve the quality of education at UW, students also agreed—six to one—that any tuition increase needed to be incremental and predictable. And students wanted the UW to look at alternatives to annual tuition increases (like charging students only for services they use, instead of requiring lump-sum fees for services) before doing additional tuition hikes. A staggering 83 percent of students, in fact, said they wanted to ditch the UW's lump-fee system.
“I have no issue with the University raising tuition if it’s reasonable, but that should be a last resort. We should always look at other options first," UW sophomore Kelsey Johnson said.
At the same time, some student comments reflected the fear that too many tuition hikes will make going to the UW an economic privilege rather than an educational right. "Diversity of students + affordability go hand in hand," one student remarked.
Probably least surprising to anyone who’s been watching UW student involvement at the state level, 91 percent of respondents said higher education needed to be a state priority.
Students didn't let UW administrators off the hook either. Many students demanded more transparency and access to the inner workings of the university. "Maybe they should let UW accounting students go over the budget,” one student suggested.
Almost 250 students commented on President Mark A. Emmert’s salary—which, at more than $900,000, is one of the highest salaries for a public university president in the nation. Several said that although it wouldn’t solve the school's financial problems for Emmert to cut his salary, it would show solidarity with struggling students.
The results have been given to President Emmert, the UW Administration, the Board of Regents, and the Student Administration, and will be used to help the University make tough decisions for dealing with funding cuts.