Governor urges $30 million higher ed. cut

By Elizabeth Ballinger.
For the next two years, Governor Chris Gregoire has proposed a $300 million dollar cut across the board for community and technical colleges, a total 8.3% cut. The cut, which had been forecast in November to take out a possible 20-30% chunk, may turn out significantly lower that expected if the governor’s budget passes as is. A tuition hike of up to $126 per year, increased class size, cuts in student services, faculty lay-offs, freezing faculty salary, and cuts in retirement funding are a few recommendations the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) has given community colleges to deal with the bite. Holding to her plan not to raise state income taxes, Gregoire’s December budget draft proposes a $3.6 billion statewide slash, in areas such as k-12 schools, higher education, health care, and public safety. “We have to live within our means,” Gregoire said in a recent press release. A 13% cut is set in the draft for regional and research institutions, such as the University of Washington, with tuition hikes of up to $450 a year recommended by the governor’s office. Whether the cut will affect enrollment at state universities, such as for students transferring from community colleges like BCC, is not yet known. “We have round one information,” said BCC President Jean Floten, in a recent message to the college, “This is far from over and requires our concerted attention.” Floten’s office began gearing up in September to deal with last-minute cuts to this year’s funds. Estimated at $32.1 million statewide, the governor’s budget will save money out of this year’s pocketbook to get a head start on next year. While BCC has dealt with budget cuts of up to a million and a half in previous years, directions to cut into school operations on this scale halfway through a budget period are unprecedented. How December’s new numbers will be apportioned to BCC has not been disclosed, though previous estimates have ranged from over $800,000 in October to over a million and a half in November. The state Legislature will approve a final budget draft as early as April, giving state agencies at most a month and a half to factor in the final changes. “We have to follow the drafts and the forecasts and begin cutting back now,” said former VP of Administrative Services at BCC, Laura Saunders, in an interview after the college got the news in September. “I don’t see how we will keep our doors open if we don’t.” Charlie Earl, Executive Director of the SBCTC, said in a press release that his department is working with the state to get the Legislature to pass the final budget as quickly as possible, to give colleges time to process the budget. “We are persistently discussing with the governor, her staff, and the Legislature,” said Earl, “the unique role our system plays in developing a well-trained workforce.” While making up the first two years of education for 40% of the state’s bachelor degree graduates, community colleges are expecting a smaller share in cuts, primarily because they feed directly into the skilled workforce. According to the governor’s draft notes, these workers are particularly necessary to economic recovery. “All in all it looks favorable for BCC,” said Floten regarding the proposed cut for this year, which is slightly larger than expected. Factoring in a tuition increase, however, it should level out to 4.3% for the college. Floten said in late November that cutting jobs would be a last-ditch effort, but that avoiding layoffs altogether would be difficult as faculty salaries make up most of the college budget. State grants to needy students are proposed to increase in proportion to tuition hikes. For the cut to be effective in saving the state money, however, it appears the definition of “needy” will change. Students applying for financial aid will need to have a maximum of 65% the Median Family Income, as opposed to the current 70%, to be eligible for state need grants. A 12% cut in health care may hinder BCC students applying for Washington Basic Health Care, the most comprehensive plan recommended by the college. The state program, which offers low-cost insurance to low-income individuals, is expected to be cut by 42%.