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Enrolling the future
Increasing out-of-state enrollment can help balance the budget
Published 8/24/2011
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It is no secret that WSU has had to make some serious sacrifices in response to the budget crisis, and the recent request from Gov. Chris Gregoire for state agencies to prepare for additional cuts as high as 10 percent suggests that those sacrifices may be far from over.

So far we have lost several departments, the German major, more than 1,000 courses and 517 faculty positions. At Friday’s budget forum, WSU President Elson S. Floyd made several difficult recommendations he believed would help us meet the $40 million reduction required by the 2011-2013 biennium budget. Consolidating major colleges, eliminating several library branches, increasing service charges and increasing enrollment all made the list, but one strategy WSU is pursuing nearly went unmentioned.

By enrolling a larger proportion of out-of-state students, our administration can significantly increase revenue from tuition without incurring the costs associated with accommodating ever larger incoming classes. Broadening the base from which we pull our students will help us maintain a high standard and will also enrich our campus by bringing in people with a wider variety of experiences. Increasing out-of-state enrollment has been part of WSU’s long-term plan for quite a while and is actually reflected in this year’s freshman class, but there is a very good reason not to emphasize that now.

Last spring, the University of Washington decided to take this strategy to its extreme by simultaneously increasing enrollment of out-of-state students and decreasing enrollment of in-state students. While posturing as Washington’s premier public university, UW ignored its obligation to provide Washington residents with access to education and was justly criticized.

The damage this incident has done to the UW’s reputation may eventually cost them more in public support than they will recoup in the form of tuition. After the controversy surrounding their decision, bringing in-state enrollment back up to 2009 levels was made a provision of House Bill 1795. During the question and answer portion of Friday’s budget forum, Floyd explained that complaints by constituents to their legislators of the sort UW generated in the spring could put the university at a disadvantage politically.

It would be very unwise to invite a comparison between what UW has done and what WSU is doing, but in reality, there is no comparison to be made. Unlike UW, WSU’s modest increase in out-of-state enrollment was accompanied by a dramatic increase in enrollment generally. Provost Warwick M. Bayly estimated that of the additional 1,100 freshmen WSU is expecting this year, only about 20 percent are out-of-state students. That means there are about 880 more in-state students coming in this year than last year.

After the tremendous cuts the legislature made to our school’s state funding, our administration can hardly be faulted for making our school more reliant on tuition. There is no real reason to expect higher education to suddenly show up on the priority list of our legislators. In the last few years, they have forced us to bear the brunt of Washington’s economic crisis, and in return, WSU has now opened its doors to more Washington residents than ever before. Our obligation to the state of Washington has been met in spades, and at this point, serving more Washington residents is certainly not a moral imperative.

In fact, we should probably be more worried about protecting the quality of education WSU provides. We have already phased out so many programs and courses that we have undoubtedly lost some future Cougars that will now have to look elsewhere for their education. President Floyd has already made it clear that he intends to protect programs through this round of budget cuts, but you can only consolidate colleges so much and more cuts are on the horizon. If we want to serve Washington residents, the money will have to come from somewhere besides the programs that bring them to WSU in the first place. 

When the renovations to Duncan-Dunn and Community Hall are completed next year, WSU will be prepared to accommodate an even larger freshman class. So long as even a negligible increase in in-state enrollment is maintained, WSU could not be blamed for continuing to increase the percentage of out-of-state students it enrolls.

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