January 17, 2011 |

WA Faculty: New Higher Ed Funding Ideas "Unrealistic"

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The recommendations of a 16-member Higher Education Funding Task Force are in, and Gov. Christine Gregoire is asking the Legislature to adopt them. But the chief spokesman for faculty members at Washington's six publicly funded four-year institutions says the panel's plans are unrealistic.

Bill Lyne, who heads the United Faculty of Washington State, says some of the task force ideas - to offer three-year degrees, teach more online courses and allow college credit for life experience or High School classes - run counter to the purpose of higher education and will diminish the value of the degree in the workplace.

"All of that is eroding the quality of our degrees. Online degrees are not cheaper - they're worse. Giving college credit for High School classes is exactly that. No one on that task force would want to send their children to the kinds of colleges that they're trying to create with those kinds of recommendations."

Although Lyne supports scholarships, he says a major task-force recommendation, to get corporate donations of $1 billion for a new state scholarship fund, comes at the wrong time for a state that is desperate to raise revenue.

"The way that it creates the money is by taking money out of the general fund. If a business gives money to this scholarship fund, then they get a tax deduction. And we all know how bad the revenues are in Washington state right now, with our $5 billion deficit."

Lyne predicts the biggest debate will be over what the governor calls "tuition flexibility" - allowing the six state schools to set their own tuition without the Legislature's approval and without a cap. With budget cuts of 23 percent in the last biennium and 30 percent recommended for higher education this year, he says more tuition hikes are inevitable.

"Our universities will probably never be fully private, but as more and more of our budget comes from tuition, we will have to operate more like private schools - and that will change the demographics of who gets to go to our public universities."

Task force members say the recommendations are designed to ensure that 27 percent more Washington students earn bachelors' degrees by 2018. Lyne says that goal is not realistic when enrollment is already at an all-time high and the state's share of the education budget continues to be cut.

The task force report is available online at www.governor.wa.gov/hied/funding_task_force_report.pdf. Views from educators about the proposals are online at www.ufww.org/ufws/blog.

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