Hard times lead to fewer Washington State U. students

By Anna Marum

Daily Evergreen, Washington State U. via UWIRE

Due to another round of severe budget cuts, Washington State U. is being more selective with enrollment and shutting the door to a portion of this year’s applicants, President Elson S. Floyd said at a news conference Monday morning.

The repercussions of the $15 million cut and continued decreases in state funding include a renewed determination by the administration to pursue tuition-setting authority. The university will also hire fewer faculty members and admit fewer students.

Floyd said the freshman classes have been exceptionally large over the past three years, but this year’s class will not hit the same mark.

Though the official enrollment figures are not yet available, Vice President of Enrollment Management John Fraire said the freshman class totals 3,320 students this year.

He said WSU has significantly increased its percentage of minority students, first-generation students and students from underserved areas of the country.

Though enrollment is down, WSU received more applications this year than in past years, and recruiting new students will continue to be a focus.

Floyd called the decrease in enrollment numbers a “financial necessity.” “We made a very conscious decision that we would not have as aggressive a class as last year,” he said.

He said the decision was made based on the uncertainty of receiving state funding.

“This is yet another manifestation of the hard times,” he said.

Also on the agenda to combat budget cuts is a continuation of the Voluntary Early Retirement Program (VERP), which gives WSU employees a payout for retiring early. Along with reinstating VERP, administrators continue to push for tuition-setting authority, which would allow the WSU Board of Regents to set tuition rates rather than state legislators.

The board asked for the authority to set tuition levels last year. Though the request was not granted, the bill did pass in the House, which is the furthest a tuition-setting bill has gone in years, Floyd said. Tuition-setting authority is steadily gaining popularity with public schools across the U.S. About half of the governing boards for public institutions now have some sort of tuition-setting power, he said.

Floyd said tuition alone cannot make up for WSU’s lack of funding. Floyd cited state funding levels, which he said have historically reached 75 percent of the school’s available budget and hovered between 40 and 50 percent in the last decade. That level has now dropped to 22 percent, he said.

According to Floyd, this year’s financial outlook is bleak.

“I wish I could tell you we are at the bottom,” he said.

However, the financial hardships are not yet over, and he said that frightens him. With a projected state deficit of $3 billion this year, WSU will likely face cuts in programs or faculty, though Floyd said he does not know where the cuts would come from.

“We are not operating as robustly as we were before,” he said. Faculty is doing more with fewer resources, and hiring has slowed to a trickle, he said.

Floyd said one of his goals this year is to preserve and protect as many jobs as he can.

In a phone interview Monday evening, ASWSU President Jake Bredstrand said ASWSU stands by its decision to support legislative control of tuition. He said elected officials have higher levels of accountability than those who sit on the Board of Regents.

He said while he knows the Board has good intentions and that administrators would do their best to keep tuition levels low if given the power, tuition continues to rise. Bredstrand said he looks forward to this year’s meetings with Cougar Coalition, a group comprised of WSU leaders from the main and branch campuses who lobby on the behalf of WSU students.

Despite his reluctance to support the Board of Regents gaining tuition-setting authority, Bredstrand said he plans to meet with President Floyd to exchange ideas on the topic.

“Overall, I don’t think anyone wants to raise tuition,” he said.

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