The president of Washington State University, during a visit to the Tri-Cities last week, said Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget cut proposal runs counter to the core values held by Washingtonians.
He also voiced strict opposition to a legislator's suggestion to completely close branch campuses such as WSU Tri-Cities.
"(The budget proposal) fundamentally changes who we are," said Elson Floyd, who took on leadership of WSU four years ago, shortly before the recession triggered a series of cuts in state funding to the university.
Floyd and WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Vicky Carwein spoke to the Herald's editorial board about the upcoming round of cuts.
The governor included a 15 percent reduction in money for the state's colleges and universities in a list of proposed cuts last month.
Floyd said he was "very much opposed to that budget."
And a suggestion by Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, to close at least some of the state universities' branch campuses, is a "nonstarter," he said.
Branch campuses such as the one in Richland increase access to higher education, Floyd said. This is crucial because three-fourths of all jobs in the near future will require a college degree, he said.
And the Tri-City campus serves many who might not go to college if they had to move away to Pullman or Seattle, Carwein said.
About 40 percent of WSU Tri-Cities students are low-income, half are the first in their families to go to college and about three-quarters rely on some kind of financial aid, she said.
Since WSU began admitting freshmen in the Tri-Cities in 2007, tuition almost has doubled, Carwein said.
"Those continuing tuition increases are worrisome," she said.
Enrollment, which had been steadily increasing in previous years, was flat this fall, Carwein said. Further tuition increases might lead to a drop in enrollment, she said.
And those increases aren't because of rising expenses at the university, Floyd said. The burden to pay for education is being shifted from the state to students, he said.
The state used to pay for about two-thirds of WSU's operating costs, he said. It now pays about 25 percent of the university's expenses.
The cost of educating a student is nearly unchanged since the '90s, said Darin Watkins, a WSU spokesman. Adjusted for inflation, the university has spent about $15,000 a year on each student for the past 15 years.
Students this year pay about $10,000 a year to attend WSU, not counting textbooks, boarding or fees.
The university has taken a number of steps to trim its budgets since 2009, Floyd said.
It cut nearly 600 jobs, eliminated three entire academic programs, consolidated several departments and slashed four administrative vice president positions, he said.
More cuts are increasingly difficult, he said.
To help balance the state's education budget, the university must reach even more partnerships with private businesses and reform the way it does business, Floyd said.
But revenue increases -- i.e. raised taxes -- must be included in any balanced approach, he said.