Today’s path does not mean tomorrow’s future.
A June 2012 Governing Magazine article postulates that the University of Michigan’s flagship in Ann Arbor, the University of Virginia and University of California at Berkeley–three of the premier public institutions of higher education in the nation–no longer have the democratic soul of a public institution. They no longer assume to represent the democratization of education but rather the privatization of our nation’s once proud system of public education.
Today in Washington, we face a choice of whether to allow the University of Washington and our other institutions of higher education to painfully stumble down that same path or to demand a different approach.
The Seattle Times recently celebrated a bold initiative to educate legislators and the public about the impact of cuts to higher education, and to put pressure on both to stem the tied of reductions. The Greater Good Campaign for Higher Education was successful last year in helping to convince the Legislature to hold the line on further cuts in the supplemental budget, but it itself is not a sustainable, broad-based budget strategy and tactic year after year.
As the 2013-2015 budget season begins behind the scenes in state government, it is essential that we reach out to the people of Washington to raise profound and historic questions:
* Are we willing to sit idly by as the Legislature invites the privatization of our public institutions without striving to find alternative paths?
* Are we willing to allow students to pay more than 70% of the cost of public education while general state taxes pay less than 30%, punishing families with debt?
* Are we willing to support tyranny of the minority so that a majority of the Legislature is impotent to even place an expiration date on a tax exemption and dedicate the money to higher education?
* Are we willing to pretend that the current model of higher education–where nearly every institution wants to be all things to all students–to continue unquestioned without consequence?
* Are we willing to allow the Legislature to slash public funding, wisely grant local governance authority to institutions, yet then criticize politically unpopular decisions by administrators as if state government rather than students are providing the majority of university funds?
* Are we willing to allow the institutions to operate as closed silos in areas where more affordable cooperation and coordination–technology, purchasing, infrastructure systems–should be employed?
* Are we willing to continue to allow funding to be divorced from outcomes of graduation and completion rates?
* Are we willing to allow our K-12 system to fail to institute the rigor needed to produce enough highly qualified graduates to fill our university slots?
* Are we willing to pretend that we can provide students with a world class education without taxes contributing to that common good?
* Are we willing to sacrifice long term access, affordability and quality for short term budget preferences?
States are currently spending 20% less in inflation adjusted dollars on higher education than a decade ago, according to Governing. For Washington, we will spend less on our four year universities in 2011-2013 budget cycle than we did in actual dollars in 1989-1991. With a major population increase during that time, and budget growth from $12.7 billion to $32.4 billion, overall spending has increased but higher education budget has not while still serving 32,000 more students.
The two year college system–a federation of 34 community and technical colleges–has seen increases but we have failed to institute a larger systems approach that would allow us to build them both to the level our citizens are demanding.
This week’s announcement that the University of Washington is joining a national consortia of on line education is a major step. And our own state community and technical college system has long been a national leader in embracing on line and hybrid learning.
We are a progressive, entrepreneurial, educated and innovative state. But we are failing to open the doors of opportunity to our own students. We are failing to see that we are a relatively educated state primarily because we ‘import’ so many educated citizens, not because we are opening the door of opportunity for our own children and students.
I categorically reject the ideas that privatization is the answer, that tuition must continue to skyrocket to supplant lost general tax dollars, that the status quo must rein, that we are trapped on this downward path.
Higher education is state government. It is worthy of our commitment, our attention, our prioritization, our taxes, our investment.
Today’s path does not mean tomorrow’s future.
We are so much more than what we’ve become.
Your partner in service,