Office of Planning and Budgeting

The Washington State Senate passed its budget last night after adopting two floor amendments. The budget cuts, compensation reductions, and policy issues we outlined were not amended in any substantive way in the engrossed budget passed by the Senate last night. Readers can examine the evolution of the House and Senate versions in detail here and here.

Regular session is scheduled to end this Sunday, but legislators will not be in Olympia over the weekend due to Easter. A special session will likely be called after the holiday and reaching agreement on a conference (negotiated) budget would be at the top of the agenda. For more information, TVW’s Capital Record blog provides an excellent summary of special session details here.

In an effort to give more students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree and enter the workforce early, the legislature passed SB 5442, “Requiring the development of three-year baccalaureate degree programs.” The bill, which was delivered to the Governor for approval on April 12th, requires institutions of higher education to provide degree programs that enable academically qualified students to graduate in three years. The bill does not explicitly define “academically qualified students,” thereby leaving it up to the higher education institutions to make their own rules. According to the bill, qualified students must not be required to enroll in summer school or take a more than full-time credit load in any term in order to graduate early. They must also be able to take classes in their major starting in their first term. The legislature hopes this will have a positive effect on graduation rates, as well as lower the cost of a baccalaureate degree for both the state and the student.

Of course, the idea of three-year degree programs is not new. In fact, students coming into the UW with 45 credits or more can already, with attentive advising and careful planning, earn a bachelor’s degree in three years. However, the degree must still meet the same university requirements as those earned in four years. While legislators want to make it easier to apply existing credits to students’ degrees, those students must still earn at least 180 credits total and meet all distribution requirements. With more and more students coming into the UW with AP and IB credit, this option has become increasingly attractive to students eager to graduate and enter the work force. However, others have actually found that the push to graduate in three (or fewer) years is detrimental to their college experience. This prompted the ASUW Senate to pass a resolution giving students the right to waive excess AP and IB credits if they so choose. Either way, students’ options for shaping their educational experience, be it three years or four, are likely increasing.

Preserving the access to and quality of higher education is paramount in the face of massive budget cuts. Two bills, HB 1795 (Enacting the higher education opportunity act) and SB 5915 (Regarding higher education funding and performance), seek to achieve this goal by:

1.       Giving tuition-setting authority to universities

2.       Reforming Financial Aid

3.       Strengthening accountability

Legislators hope this will preserve the quality of higher education while protecting affordability for students and their families. The House Higher Education committee passed a substitute version of HB 1795 in February, while SB 5915 just had its first hearing in the Senate Ways & Means committee on April 6th. While HB 1795 has not been altered since its hearing more than a month ago, the issues that it seeks to address are still relevant, and we anticipate both bills to remain in play. Please click on the table below to see a summary of the similarities and differences between the two bills.

The House released operating and capital budgets yesterday for the upcoming biennium (FY12 & FY13). This budget is an important next step in the budget development process in Olympia but we are far from having a final compromise budget.

The House operating budget proposal:

  • Cuts state funding for the UW by $204 million over two years (32% reduction)
  • Authorizes resident undergraduate tuition rate increases of 13% for both years
  • Eliminates the State Work Study Program
  • Increases the State Need Grant to adjust for increased tuition rates
  • Mandates reductions equivalent to a 3% salary reduction

The House capital budget:

  • Authorizes state funds for the Odegaard Undergraduate Learning Center renovation
  • Provides some state funds for some minor capital repairs, the House of Knowledge, UW Seattle’s High Voltage Infrastructure Improvement project, and design-phase funding for Anderson Hall

Please read our comprehensive brief about the budgets and please post any questions or comments to the blog.

This is the first in a series of blog posts that presents a Washington State Legislative bill that we are tracking and provides more information about what the bill does and why it is relevant to the UW.

As the demand for higher education increases, especially among students who are place-bound or have outside commitments that prohibit them from pursuing a traditional college education, online learning has become more and more popular. While some universities use limited online classes to ease overfilled classrooms or offer introductory classes more cheaply, some students study exclusively online.

House Bill 1822, “Establishing the first nonprofit online university,” seeks to partner the state with Western Governor’s University (WGU), a non-profit, online university, creating WGU-Washington. The bill has passed out of the House, was passed by the Higher Education and Workforce Development committee in the Senate, and has been passed to the Rules committee for second reading.

The new WGU-Washington would not receive any state funds, nor would its students be eligible for state financial aid like the State Need Grant; however, supporters of the bill purport that projected increases in the demand for postsecondary education combined with future labor force requirements are such that increased degree production in the state is crucial. Proponents see a partnership with WGU as a resource for Washington citizens and employers that does not require a large investment of state funds. The bill also seeks to make it easier for students to transfer credits between WGU and the “traditional” state institutions of higher education.

While some questioned the necessity of the bill at the Senate hearing, pointing to the fact that Washington students can already enroll at WGU independently, and that the state’s community colleges may be better options for such students, others maintained that Washington’s existing  institutions are overenrolled and that WGU offered a low-cost alternative to private for-profit online universities. Other critics pointed to the lack of data available on WGU programs, processes and outcomes as an indication that a WGU education may not meet the standards of the other institutions in the state.

WGU was chartered in 1996, and endorsed by the 19 Governors of the “Member States,” including former Governor Locke. It offers bachelor’s and master’s programs in the fields of education, information technology, health professions, and business. Basic tuition for a six-month terms is $2,890, though some program fees lead to a higher total cost. The institution currently enrolls 23,000 students all over the United States. Instead of a traditional classroom where a faculty member who is a subject matter expert teaches the material, WGU students are led through a competency-based curriculum that is developed by faculty mentors (who generally hold terminal degrees) and facilitated by student mentors and course mentors, most of whom have earned a graduate degree (although WGU does not provide an exhaustive list of faculty mentors or of student and/or course mentors). WGU asserts that the vast majority of alumni and their subsequent employers are pleased with their university experience, and feel they are competitive in the workforce.

When the revenue forecast was released on March 17, House fiscal leadership indicated that their operating budget would be delayed. We hoped to see a budget on March 21st and then on March 29th. Tomorrow is April 1 and your analysts at OPBlog anticipate having neither budget drafts to write about nor fantastic prank ideas to implement.

Some news outlets indicate that we may see the House Ways and Means Operating Budget next week. Meanwhile, Senate Ways and Means chair Ed Murray, D-Seattle, is on record saying that the Senate will not release its budget until the House releases theirs.

We’ll offer full analysis of the budgets as they are released. Stay tuned!

The SHEEO State Higher Education Finance report for FY 2010 was released last week. Unsurprisingly, it confirms that the same general pattern in Washington of deep state cuts to higher education funding coupled with steep tuition increases is being replicated in states across the US.

Report Highlights: National Trends

Nationally, on average, state support for public high education per full-time-equivalent (FTE) student declined by about 7 percent between 2009 and 2010, and, at $6,454 per student, is at its lowest level in 25 years. The reports notes that average increases in net tuition revenue of 3.4 percent per student partially offset these budget cuts.

These cuts comes at a time when enrollment continues to grow partly due to more citizens seeking out higher education during the economic crisis. Nationally, enrollment grew by 15 percent between 2005 and 2010. Even when state and federal and increased tuition support manage to stay whole or increase, the report notes that increasing enrollments continue to erode per student funding levels over time.

The report highlights the importance that state support continues to play in education related spending by public institutions even as tuition revenue rises. They acknowledge that this importance is sometimes obscured by the complex finances of large institutions that have many other (non-fungible) funding sources.

Ultimately, SHEEO purports that public and policymaker values are consistent with continued public support for higher education, and they are hopeful that investment will rise again once state budgets stabilize and improve.

Report Highlights: Washington State

SHEEO presents the following averages for Washington State higher education for the 2005-2010 period:

  • 12th in increased enrollment in public higher education (19.2%).
  • 30th in appropriations per FTE.
  • 40th in percent of net tuition revenue as percent of total education revenue.
  • 40th in total educational revenue per FTE.

These numbers are a testament to the comparatively low tuition rates enjoyed by WA residents combined with lower than average state appropriations.

Read the full report for more data, analysis, and methodological details.

You might notice links for a new website, UW Budget Watch, popping up on UW homepages (including OPB and right here on the blog).

OPB worked with Web Communications staff to develop one website that would consolidate many sources of information relating to the state budget and how it has and is expected to continue affecting the University. You will find links to blogs (the absolute best way to get the most up to the date and timely notices) and other UW and non-UW websites, as well as many educational documents, messages about the budget from UW leadership, videos about the current funding situation, and information about related UW initiatives.

We have found sites such as this very helpful in keeping up to date with our peer institutions, and we hope that our page will be as useful for anyone interested in keeping up on the latest developments.

So, visit the page often and we will work hard to keep it updated!

State Economic Forecast Council Director Dr. Arun Raha released the March revenue forecast today. This forecast serves as the revenue basis for the Legislature’s general fund budget in the 2011-13 biennium (FY12 and FY13).

2009-11 Biennium (FY10 & FY11)

While many economic indicators used in his analysis show tentative growth in 2011, revenue collections through March 10, 2011 were $85 million below expectations and growth through the next quarter will continue to lag expectations, contributing to an additional $80 million deficit in the 2009-11 biennium. Legislative leadership confirmed that an additional (fourth) supplemental budget will be needed to reconcile the new FY11 shortfall. The timing of that budget is unknown.

2011-13 (FY12 & FY13)

Weaker growth in several key sectors over the last three months prompted Dr. Raha to increase the projected deficit for the 2011-13 biennium by $698 million.  The Legislature will use a $31.9 billion revenue base for the General Fund State. For comparison, the Governor’s December budget was based on a $32.1 billion general fund state budget.  

While we anticipate the House will release their operating budget proposal next week, House leadership did not commit to a date.

The March forecast includes new data about the downside risks to our economy including the earthquake, tsunami, and risk of nuclear meltdown in Japan. Further, Dr. Raha states that the most significant threat to economic growth is the energy market.  He fears escalating gas prices will continue to erode consumer confidence, regardless of job growth. These downside risk factors overwhelm any upside risks (employment growth, consumer confidence, and commodity prices) by 10 percent.

Please check this blog regularly for state budget updates as they become available.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined Governor Chris Gregoire and legislative leadership today for an education roundtable. Duncan congratulated state lawmakers on discussing the issue of education reform, even through tough budget times. He further drew attention to the grave problems troubling education in the United States—a 25% national dropout rate, poor STEM education, the large number of students taking remedial courses, and gaping budget gaps, which challenge the adequate funding of education.

Of particular interest, Duncan commented on the current system of education governance in Washington, claiming: “Washington has eight different agencies with different strategic plans working in Washington and it’s very difficult for me to understand how having different agencies handling education…will transform education.”

Governor Gregoire has bills in both chambers to consolidate education governance into one Department of Education headed by the Governor. The plan would also consolidate many existing state education agencies into four primary education divisions: Early Years Division, K-12 Division, Community College and Technical Education Division, and the University Programs Division. All units would report to a new Department of Education Secretary.

Secretary Duncan reiterated President Obama’s commitment to investing in education despite the economic downturn, and gave examples of strategic programs and innovations the administration is working towards:

-Investing in Early Learning programs like Head Start, which studies have shown to improve achievement especially for disadvantaged students who do not have many educational opportunities at home

-Continuing the Race to the Top program which rewards schools for outstanding innovation and improvement in education (if approved by Congress)

Lastly, Governor Gregoire distributed a document describing how much it costs taxpayers when students “fall through the cracks” of the education system– by dropping out, taking remedial courses, or repeating grades–a number her advisers estimate at around $ 100 million a year. Though the problems facing education in Washington state and in the nation are indeed grave, it was encouraging to see lawmakers pause during a critical week to discuss education. As Secretary Duncan asserted, “our children cannot wait for the economy to bounce back”—education must remain a priority, despite the dire budget situation.

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