In an unusual twist, a student-led committee at the University of Washington says that if state lawmakers don’t boost funding for higher education, the school should raise tuition by 3 percent — and use all the money to give faculty and staff a raise.
“It’s our sense, at this university, that if this wage freeze doesn’t end this year, it will have serious implications,” said Michael Kutz, a junior majoring in computer science and economics who chairs the Provost’s Advisory Committee for Students.
UW wages have been frozen for four years — ever since the start of the economic downturn, when the Legislature began cutting higher-education funding.
Students on the budget advisory committee, along with student-government leaders, say if lawmakers won’t increase funding for higher education, students would support a 3 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduates — or about $322 — in 2013-14, and another 3 percent increase the next year. Total tuition and fees are currently about $12,400.
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If the Legislature funds higher education at a level similar to last year’s, the student increase would pay a 2 percent raise to faculty and staff in 2013-14, and a second 2 percent raise in 2014-15.
Students presented the proposal during a UW Board of Regents meeting Thursday, and administrators affirmed the importance of the issue.
“Our No. 1 concern is compensation — after four years, we really are at the risk of losing some talented people,” said UW budget director Paul Jenny.
History professor Jim Gregory, chairman of the Faculty Senate, said professors at the UW are paid 11 to 16 percent less than faculty members at comparable universities.
Although a 2 percent wage increase won’t erase the difference, he called it “a wonderful gesture, and a gift to the faculty.”
This marks the second year that students have been given a seat at the table in budget discussions, and the first time they have presented a budget proposal to the regents.
Last year, students asked for more influence over the budget because they are paying a rapidly increasing share of the cost of going to school at the state institution.
Because of state budget cuts, the UW and other state schools have increased tuition by double-digit amounts.
The state once picked up the majority of the cost of educating an undergraduate at the UW; now, students pay about 70 percent of the cost.
Ultimately, whether tuition rises or falls is up to the Legislature, which will hold a special session later this month to finish writing the budget. Among the proposals are a bill to cut tuition by 3 percent next year, a Senate budget proposal to freeze tuition and a House proposal to increase it by 5 percent.
The fact that students support a tuition increase if the state won’t put more money into higher education could help in legislative budget deliberations, said Randy Hodgins, vice president of the UW Office of External Affairs.
“It’s not just the administration, but our students here see a need for it, too,” he said regarding more higher-education funding.
Students said the proposal to increase tuition has been controversial, and not everyone agrees it’s a good idea.
Still, “we’re empathetic” to the wage-freeze issue for faculty members, said Adam Sherman, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. “We don’t want to lose them.”
Provost Ana Mari Cauce said that because of budget cutbacks, many faculty members are teaching larger classes, and working with more students, for the same amount of money.
And although newly hired assistant professors are usually hired at the market rate, the freeze means that “the longer you’re here, the more your salary diverges from the market,” Cauce said — a phenomenon that some faculty members have taken to describing as a
Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @katherinelong.