Legislative Session Kicks Off

We are facing one of the most significant budget crises in state and UW history. So much is at stake: the potential elimination or consolidation of entire graduate programs; laying off of professors, staff, TAs, RAs; larger class sizes; fewer course offerings; fewer student services; reduced research funding.
With the 2011 Legislative Session kicking off on Monday, Jan. 10, I wanted to provide you with an update on what GPSS is doing to advocate for UW's graduate and professional student interests.
 
Governor's Higher Education Funding Task Force
You may have seen the lead story in the Seattle Times last week:http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2013835321_highered04m.html
 
And here is The Daily's report, which includes the student perspective:http://dailyuw.com/2011/1/5/transferring-tuition-control/
 
We are disturbed by what appears to be an endorsement of the funding floor model that's being labeled as being about local tuition control. Really, it would give the administration the ability to significantly raise tuition to make up for severe state budget cuts. While graduate education is already locally controlled, what happens to undergraduate tuition will certainly have a bearing on what happens to graduate tuition.
 
The budget crisis should not be a license to take money out of student pockets. We will advocate that legislators preserve access for low- and middle-income students. Ideally this is through keeping tuition low. But in lieu of that, we want the Legislature to EXPAND financial aid funding and fund the few programs that benefit graduate and professional students.
 
The Governor's budget
Last month, the Governor released her first budget. It would eliminate many services and would make dramatic cuts in education funding. Tuition would increase by 22 percent over two years for UW undergrads. But even with the cuts, colleges and universities would collectively experience $220 million in cuts.
 
 
If this budget goes through as-is, UW's state appropriation will have been cut in HALF over three years. This could have catastrophic impacts on UW's graduate programs and could result in the elimination or consolidation of entire graduate programs, historically high tuition increases, massive cuts in TA positions, the loss of world-class faculty, reduced class offerings, and more.
 
Further, all financial aid programs that benefit graduate and professional students would be eliminated (except for State Work-Study, from which just 3% of UW's graduate and professional students benefit).
 
Student engagement
The signature student advocacy event of the year will be Husky on the Hill Day on Friday, Feb. 11. This will be a vitally important opportunity to show legislators that students will not stand a further degradation of the state's commitment to higher education. To learn more about the event or to become involved, go here:http://www.gpss.washington.edu/content/huskies-hill-lobby-day-february-11-2011
 
Beyond that, GPSS Legislative Assistant Melanie Mayock and I have been working closely with the GPSS Communications & Outreach Committee to develop a student engagement strategy. We are working to set up town halls at individual graduate programs, like medicine, nursing, public affairs, law, public health, etc.
 
We are also planning other engagement campaigns, like a video storytelling contest and Huskies on the Hill contest that offers a pizza party for the program with the highest proportional attendance. Getting you out there and engaged is a vital piece of our legislative efforts. If we all realize what's at stake, we know you'll want to rise up and fight for higher education. Our challenge will be getting the word out.
 
Coming down the pike
Lots of meetings and committee hearings for me in Olympia. On campus, we've got a little more than a month till lobby day. We are hoping to conduct several town halls to educate students on what we are facing and why they need to understand that this session will change everything, the level of quality we have become accustomed to can no longer be taken for granted. So right now it's all hands on deck for lobby day planning.
 
Legislatively, bills are just now dropping, so we don't have specifics on what we are facing, though we have a sense based on some legislator proposals we've seen. Looks like local tuition control (and, more specifically, the funding floor model) will be the big topic in higher ed this session.
 
And here are some other links in case you need something to read or watch ...
Here, House and Senate leadership look ahead to session. Higher ed comes up at 14:34. "Higher education has been the piggy bank for times when things get tough." btw, check out 18:38 when Sen. Hewitt briefly talks about the impact the student voice has.
 
 
Other reads:
 
Let me know if you have questions or comments!
Ben