No cuts to Education from Washington state

Easterner Graphics

Technical issues prevent the author from being properly attributed. The author of this piece is Libby Campbell.

College students across the state can breathe a collective sigh of relief now that Washington state Legislature has announced its latest budget plan.

Higher education and K-12 education escaped budget cuts, which is good news for students.

“As long as there are no cuts to higher education, that means that the state will continue to subsidize our tuition at the same level as they are now,” said Kaleb Hoffer, ASEWU Finance Vice President. “It helps keep our tuition costs lower.”

Last year saw a $482 million cut in the state budget, which greatly affected universities and community colleges across the state.

“It’s been a huge burden on students not just around the state, but especially at Eastern because we have so many first generation students and so many students that wouldn’t normally go to college,” said Shelby Pelon, ASEWU legislative liaison. “If we were to have seen another cut like Governor Gregoire had originally proposed, we would have lost a lot of students.”

Because the state allocates money to universities, budget cuts reduce the amount of funding available to schools across the state. The university must depend more heavily upon tuition and fee revenues when there is less monetary support from the state, according to Eastern’s 2011 Financial Report. The report states that last year the university had to increase self-support fees, counseling fees, administrative fees and special lab and course fees to help alleviate budget woes.

“Eastern’s board of trustees still has the authority to raise tuition if they need to cover cost of living expenses or just general expenses,” Hoffer said. “If there is going to be an increase in tuition, it won’t be as high as it would have been if there had been a cut,” he said.

Kelli Crawford, who handles legislative affairs for ASEWU, says the 25 percent tuition increase from 2009 to 2010 is “a trend that is unsustainable for nearly all our students.”

Crawford hopes the lack of budget cuts will help Eastern accomplish its fiveyear strategic plan of increasing graduation rates from 46 percent to 54 percent by 2017.

“EWU has a greater percentage of students qualifying for need-based aid than any other four-year university in the state. [Tuition] increases in the past have surely been a huge factor in our graduation rates,” she said.

“Keeping education both affordable and accessible is extremely important for students, as higher education is proven to break the cycle of poverty for families,” Crawford said. “Those who hold a bachelor’s degree typically earn over a million more dollars over their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma. … By increasing the ability of our students to both enter and graduate from EWU, we can set them on the path to economic prosperity,” she said.

To show their support for higher education, members of ASEWU and about 60 Eastern students made the trip to Olympia, Wash., in February for Lobby Day.

“We set up meetings with legislators at the Capitol and just spoke to them and told them our stories about how cutting the budget would affect our tuition and how we can’t afford that,” Hoffer said.

As ASEWU legislative liason, Pelon spent winter quarter lobbying in Olympia, meeting with representatives and senators and testifying in committees. She said she appreciated the support from fellow students on Lobby Day. “It was nice to have a group of Eastern Eagles come to support me by meeting with their representatives and legislators just to say, ‘We’ve had enough,’” she said.

Student lobbyists did not go unnoticed.

“Eastern was actually recognized by three different legislators about our [lobbying] efforts,” Hoffer said.

Eastern had the second highest number of students in attendance at Lobby

Day and is geographically farthest from the Capitol, which garnered recognition.

“They saw our force. We went in matching T-shirts so that they knew we were there and that we cared,” Hoffer said.

Pelon said that even though higher education escaped budget cuts, now is not the time to stop the discussion. “Still keep contacting your representatives and senators. Thank them for not cutting higher education, and encourage them to keep fighting for higher education.”

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