Washington State College Leaders Plead Their Case to Remain Academically Competitive
Washington’s universities clash on the athletic field and sometimes wage turf wars but presented a united front in their plea for continued help from the Legislature.
Led by the presidents of the University of Washington and Washington State University, the leaders were a tag team earlier this week. They urged the Senate higher education panel to keep expanding access and to guard against top-drawer faculty being raided by out-of-state universities with big endowments and money to burn.
They spent part of their presentations touting their own virtues, each mentioning prominent national rankings. UW President Mark Emmert, for instance, said his university made the Economist’s ranking of “the top 20 universities on Earth.”
Each bragged about unique course offerings, success in attracting minority students and quick turnaround time in offering programs that their local businesses need, such as engineering, computer science and nursing.
But each also made a broader argument that higher education is central to the economic and social success of the state in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Each noted the irony of having to turn aside qualified students when the state faces the “Baby Boom Echo” and will have to deal with tens of thousands of new students pounding on the door over the next decade.
“It hurts me when I turn aside a qualified student,” said WSU President V. Lane Rawlins.
The leaders said lawmakers should pay attention to the brain drain of topflight faculty. That can also mean the loss of research assistants, top students and lucrative grants, literally costing the state millions of dollars in some cases, they said.
California, Wisconsin, Arizona and other states are investing heavily in stem cell and life sciences research and they’re eying Washington’s best scientists and professors, the college presidents said.
Emmert and Rawlins and chancellors of their expansion campuses in Bothell, Tacoma, Tri-Cities and Vancouver also described the challenges of expanding to full four-year campuses in an era of tight finances.
Other college leaders, from Western Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Central Washington University and The Evergreen State College also joined in making the case that higher education must stay on lawmakers’ radar screen, even though the main budget was adopted last year.
Gov. Chris Gregoire didn’t have much in her proposed supplemental operating and construction budgets for higher education this year. Budget leaders have said they’ll try to add some spending for new enrollment slots, especially in high-demand fields, and for one-time spending on infrastructure and to cover extraordinary energy costs.
“They certainly have their struggles,” said the Senate education chairwoman, Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. “They do a good job and they need to be heard.”
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