Washington State University officials are warning of more budget cuts, yet multi-million dollar construction projects continue to appear around campus. WSU is able to fund these projects while providing fewer services to students because the university budget is divided into an operating budget and a capital budget. The operating budget is for daily operations on campus, including employee salaries. The capital budget is for long term investments, notably construction.
Since the recession began the state has chipped away at higher education. WSU’s 2009-2011 operating budget was $550 million, and the 2011-2013 operating budget is $412.1 million, a 26.2 percent decrease. The current capital budget is $72.2 million, half of which is for a Biomedical & Health Sciences building in Spokane. In essence, WSU is cutting staff and raising tuition while funding construction. Projects such as the $26 million Olympia Hall dorms and the currently under-construction $96 million Veterinary Medical Research Building are symbols of hypocrisy as students and staff are asked to tighten their belts.
Of course, recent capital projects were funded before the recession began. And to be sure, most capital projects such as the recent CUB renovation have proven valuable to the university and its students. But as Washington state faces grim revenue forecasts, new construction should be out of the question; the funds should be diverted to the operating budget in order to preserve teaching positions and lessen tuition increases. In the meantime, expect to pay more for college while new construction continues around campus.