Some of the biggest losers in yesterday's state House budget proposal are our state's public colleges and universities... or I guess, more accurately, their current and future students.
The House would slash another $482 million from higher education spending, $100 million more than the governor's already brutal proposal, amounting to a more than 50 percent cut over two biennia. Even after tuition hikes of between 11.5 and 13 percent, our two-year and four-year institutions would still have to cut as much as 5.4 percent from their budgets. Students will be paying more and getting less.
As a percentage of our state economy, higher education spending had already dropped 63.7 percent from a high of $15.53 per $1,000 of personal income in 1974 to $5.48 per $1,000 in 2010. And falling. Dollars speak louder than words, and clearly, as a state, we obviously no longer believe that providing affordable access to a quality college education is all that important anymore.
So why not just make it official? Let's just privatize, sell off, or shut down our state colleges and universities and watch the market work its magic.
The best deal for taxpayers would be to auction off the assets to the highest bidders, but that might even strike some Republicans as too radical. So the more pragmatic, yet still fiscally conservative approach would be to just phase out state funding over say, a ten year period, and let the individual institutions sink or swim on their own.
Sounds crazy, I know. Yet we're already halfway there, and with zero indication that this bipartisan program of disinvestment will turn around anytime soon. So wouldn't everybody be better served if we were just honest about our state higher education policy, and gave administrators, faculty, and students a little time to prepare?
Maintaining an affordable and excellent public college and university system is simply not a priority in Washington state anymore. It just isn't. And it hasn't been for years. The sooner we admit it and move on, the sooner we as a state can lower our economic expectations to meet this new reality.