OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers proposed zero cuts to higher education in their budget proposal from the Senate Committee on Ways and Means released Tuesday.
Compared to the House budget proposed last week, which would cut $65 million to higher education and $10 million to the State Need Grant, the Senate proposal has higher education supporters feeling hopeful.
“When you consider everything else we’ve been dealing with over the past four years, this is a real game changer for higher education," said Chris Mulick, director of state relations for Washington State University.
WSU would have taken a $9.3 million, or 3 percent, hit under the House proposal, Mulick said, adding to a more than 50 percent reduction in state funding to WSU in the past four years.
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Like the House budget proposal, the Senate proposal requires WSU and the University of Washington to put $3.8 million more into engineering programs. In the Senate proposal, lawmakers do not provide the additional funding, but they ask university administrators to redirect current funding into those programs.
Administrators at WSU will use the earmarked funding to increase enrollment in engineering programs in Pullman, Vancouver, Everett and Bremerton, Mulick said, but not the Tri-Cities.
“If there was a whole bunch of unmet demand for engineering programs in the Tri-Cities, we’d be ramping up there too,” Mulick said.
Melissa O'Neil Perdue, marketing and communications manager at WSU Tri-Cities, said administrators in the Tri-Cities would always welcome more funding, but the campus already has a strong engineering programs.
Perdue said WSU Tri-Cities not only meets the demands by students in the community, but she welcomed students that cannot get enrolled in engineering programs or classes at the Pullman campus -- or even the University of Washington -- to relocate to the Tri-Cities.
Even if WSU Tri-Cities does not receive an increase in engineering funding, the campus will see some benefit from the Senate budget proposal, Mulick said.
“What this does mean for the Tri-Cities, as system wide, is this will put an end to the dramatic reductions that we’ve seen,” Mulick said.
The Senate has not voted to approve the budget proposal yet. Once the House and Senate approve their own budgets, both chambers will come together to reconcile the two budgets.
Mulick said he could not predict whether the final budget, approved by both House and Senate, will have any cuts to higher education, but he is hopeful there will be none.
“Either way, the range of outcomes that we’re looking at is a dramatic improvement over what we were looking at even as recently as a few months ago,” Mulick said.
-- Eric Francavilla, a Herald intern from Washington State University, can be reached at email@example.com.