June 20, 2013 | Volume 117 Number 9

Eastern hopes for good budget news

While state budget negotiations haven’t moved much past the impasse setting in Olympia, officials at Eastern Washington University retain some degree of confidence that budget numbers for funding higher education won’t move much off the original proposals.

A budget overview presentation given to the university’s board of trustees at their May 16 meeting indicated proposals from the House and Senate were relatively close for the 2013-2015 biennium, with the former at $73.63 million and the latter at just over $75 million. While those figures represent only 33 percent of Eastern’s operating budget funding, a far cry from the over 62 percent figure in 2009, it does reflect a $5.16 million increase in maintenance level funding over the current biennial figure of just over $68 million.

It also reflects an increase in general fund state funding per full-time equivalent student over the next two years, $4,191 in 2014 and $4,197 in 2015, up from $3,928 and $3,870 respectively but again, far short of the $6,447 the state provided in 2008. The difference in the chamber’s two budgets came from a Senate authorization to increase new enrollment levels from 8,734 FTES to 8,860 FTES, while the House provided no increase.

The House did allow for the state’s four-year institutions to take a 3 percent increase in tuition, while the Senate provided no such authority.

Eastern vice president for business and finance Mary Voves thinks the legislators budgeting task may receive some positive help with the release Tuesday of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s outlook. The ERFC continues to forecast “slow economic and job growth” at both the state and national levels, predicting $110 million more in the state coffers in this biennium, $121 million in 2013-2015 and $51 million in 2015-2017.

“With the forecast, it’s always better to be going up than going down,” Voves said in a June 18 interview.

Even with the slight increase in state funding, Eastern is still left in the position of raising tuition rates to cover a lot of its $498,168,888 total 2013-2015 operating budget, $244,495,620 in 2014 and $253,668,268 in 2015. In the May proposal tuition will increase by 7 percent for resident undergraduates and graduates, although Voves said that will actually be 6.4 percent due to the fact that the Associated Students of EWU elected to not raise their service and activity fees, which are a mandatory part of the tuition rate.

“The students have significant reserves built up,” Voves said, adding that they’ve done well in managing their money.

As for raising tuition above what the Legislature might authorize, Voves said four-year universities have that authority as long as they set aside more of that increase for financial aid.

“That’s pretty routine for us so we factor that into our numbers,” she said. Voves added that Eastern elected to take 11 percent tuition increases in each of the bienniums past two years, while the other four-year schools took the maximum allowed 14 percent.

“Even with the increase we’ll still be the lowest tuition in the state,” she said.

If at least the minimum $5.16 million does indeed come through Voves said the university’s plans are to spend most of that, $4.3 million, in employee compensation and new positions. Details are still under negotiations, she added, but it would be something a long time coming for the university as its faculty has historically been paid “well below market.”

Voves is positive about the funding outlook from the state. She believes there is an interest in Olympia to fund education, both K-12 and higher education, but it’s just a question of how much and where to find the funds.

“I do think they have good intentions,” she said. “At least most of them.”

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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