Washington Higher Education: Part 1 in an ongoing series on questions legislators might ask

by Jason Mercier, Budget Research Analyst
Evergreen Freedom Foundation
Volume 13, Number 9

February 11, 2003

Washington State - Recently the majority of state government entities in Washington participated in Governor Locke's Priorities of Government (POG) exercise by prioritizing all of their activities into categories of high, medium, or low. Unfortunately, two of the largest budget drivers-K-12 (44.1 percent of proposed 2003-05 Operating Budget) and higher education (11.6 percent)- refused to rank their activities.

At a time when the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) is calling on the state to increase spending on higher education by an additional $1.1 billion, it is paramount that all activities be examined and prioritized. Especially with the HECB commenting that, "the state must consider new revenue sources if current funds can't pay for those needed investments." Before new taxes can even be considered, higher education must be forced to account for the billions already allocated to the system.

Consider the following findings of Dr. Harry Stille of the Higher Education Research Policy Center of South Carolina:

Washington four-year graduation rates:

Evergreen State College 42 percent
University of Washington 38 percent
Washington State University 27 percent
Western Washington 25 percent
Central Washington 19 percent
Eastern Washington 16 percent
Average 28 percent

This means our state's higher education institutions average only a 28 percent four-year graduation rate.

Washington six-year graduation rates:

University of Washington 70 percent
Western Washington 63 percent
Washington State University 60 percent
Evergreen State College 56 percent
Central Washington 47 percent
Eastern Washington 46 percent
Average 57 percent

These findings, coupled with the fact that higher education has refused to participate in the Governor's POG, lead to some important questions legislators should consider asking before increasing higher education funding:

* With a four-year average graduation rate of 28 percent and six-year average of 57 percent, are Washington taxpayers receiving a good return on the billions of dollars they invest in higher education?

* What is the primary purpose of the state's four-year institutions? If it is instruction, shouldn't the majority of class time be taught by professors instead of teaching assistants? (Please see EFF PH 12-7, Is Higher Education publicly accountable?)

* Would four- and six-year graduation rates improve if state assistance was capped at a set number of credit hours per student? One example would be to cap credits at 120 hours for four-year schools and 150 hours for community colleges.

* Should the state subsidize out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students? If so, should the state be owed a refund for that subsidy if the student either does not complete the course or does not work in the state for at least three years post graduation?

* If a student fails to complete a degree in six years, should the state be owed a refund for the subsidy granted during the time enrolled?

* Should a standard two-year basic education curriculum be adopted by all of the state's four-year institutions and community colleges to allow students to attend the two-year colleges and seamlessly transfer into the four-year institutions to pursue their majors? Would this result in savings for students and the state?

* Why are 51 percent of the high school graduates attending community colleges in Washington enrolled in a remedial course? Should the high school that issued the diploma to these students be forced to pay the cost of the remedial course tuition? Should the institutions revisit their admission standards?

Prepared by Jason Mercier, Budget Research Analyst (360) 956-3482

Evergreen Freedom Foundation
A Non-Profit Public Policy Research Organization
P.O. Box 552, Olympia, WA 98507
(360) 956-3482, www.effwa.org


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