For years, the Legislature has deeply cut funding to Washington’s superb public universities, resulting in skyrocketing tuition for students.
THE state of Washington is justifiably famous for innovative genius sparking entirely new technologies and business models, from retail coffee to computer software, from online shopping to composite materials for jetliners. We have much to be proud of in our great state.
However, a concern I often hear from business leaders is whether we are producing enough of our own homegrown technology, business and other leaders to foster and continue to grow our dynamic state economy.
The issue of adequately funding K-12 education has led to a protracted battle, still without resolution, involving the Legislature and state Supreme Court. For years during the Great Recession, the Legislature deeply cut funding to Washington’s superb public universities, resulting in skyrocketing tuition for students to make up the wide funding gaps. To its great credit, the Legislature lately has partially reversed that trend by cutting resident undergraduate tuition to public universities.
Access to public universities still continues to be a significant problem. According to recent census data, the state of Washington ranked 47th nationally in participation in public four-year higher education among 20- to 34-year-olds.
This doesn’t mean the state’s public universities are inefficient in producing graduates. On the contrary, those institutions are among the top 10 nationally in four-year, five-year and six-year graduation rates.
How can we graduate enough well-educated citizens of our state to fill the jobs of the future, which increasingly will require a bachelor’s degree or more?
Government clearly cannot do everything, and I am very proud to report on one way access to higher education has been helped — through the Western Stands for Washington Campaign, which is raising money to fund student scholarships, labs, equipment, faculty endowments and much more at Western Washington University.
Thanks to 21,700 generous donors, Western’s largest-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign passed its $60 million goal seven months before schedule and is now more than $62 million. With more than 100 new endowments and a doubling of the amount of funding for scholarships, the campaign will benefit Western students — and our state — for generations.
For instance, students will participate in cutting-edge research in the WWU Institute for Energy Studies’ new Alpha Technologies Electrical Engineering Laboratory. A student led crowdfunding effort equipped a biology lab with a new sophisticated microscope to research genetics, cell and developmental biology. An endowment supports Western ocean-acidification research. Another gift combines research, education and the arts with aspiring teachers and entrepreneurs. Still other gifts renovated space on campus for a research-writing studio, and fund geology-field-mapping trips, internships and summer research projects in behavioral neuroscience, health sciences and computer fields. An alum’s gift provided Western’s new, badly needed and instantly popular Harrington Field for soccer and other field sports.
More than $22 million for scholarships will help: aspiring K-12 teachers, professional development for teachers in areas such as math and science, manufacturing and supply chain majors, those entering the field of early childhood education, accounting students, future marine scientists, plastics engineering, summer research for students in chemistry and funding for the iconic Adventure Learning Grants at Western’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. The grants annually send several Fairhaven College students abroad for 10 months for self-directed research projects.
This is just a short list of how this campaign has provided a measure of additional excellence and opportunity at Western — of how it is changing lives for Western’s entire campus and the state it proudly serves. Western is not alone in such support — the University of Washington and Washington State University both have led highly successful fundraising campaigns recently that demonstrate the strong commitment of their supporters to excellence at those schools.
Fundraising of this sort can never replace the significant and important investment our Legislature must continue to make in public higher education. But it does emphasize how important public education is to thousands of Western alumni, companies and leaders in the state. With their pocketbooks, they stood up for education, for WWU and investing in our state’s future.