Departure of UW's president should be concern to state lawmakers

The cuts to higher education have forced tuition up and a change of direction for public colleges.

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Budget cuts at a time of reduced tax revenues are prudent for state government.

However, we have questioned the wisdom of targeting higher education to absorb a disproportionately high level of cuts. Lawmakers slashed the state's share of higher-education funding while expecting the universities and colleges to make up the difference with higher tuition and donations.

Our concern is that higher tuition will price more and more Washingtonians out of a college education. It is not realistic to expect low- and middle-income students to supplement their tuition with government grants or even loans. Money is tight all over.

But, perhaps, lawmakers don't see that because higher education officials have done a solid job of raising money throughout the state.

Take, for example, the amazing accomplishments of University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who has been dubbed a rainmaker.

"Emmert is an unparalleled master of communication, at creating buzz around an idea or conveying to the public the huge value of universities and of the UW in particular," The Seattle Times wrote in a recent editorial. "Under his tenure, the UW completed its most successful fundraising campaign in history, raising more than $2.68 billion. The university raised its standing to second among all public and private institutions in research funding with $1 billion in grants and contracts per year."

So, with all that cash coming to the UW, lawmakers apparently thought it was safe to chop the state's contributions to the school by 33 percent.

Unfortunately, the ill effects of those cuts revealed themselves immediately. Emmert is leaving the UW.

Last week Emmert was named president of the NCAA. It's a high-profile job with tremendous pay and, relatively speaking, less headaches. At least Emmert won't have to endure the frustration of lobbying lawmakers to fulfill their obligations and fund a public university.

This, however, leaves the UW -- and the state -- in a tough spot trying to find a president as talented as Emmert.

The UW will, like it or not, have to operate more like a private university than a state-run school. The admissions policy is already changing.

Seven hundred more freshmen from other states and countries will be added over time because they pay three times as much tuition as in-state students, The Seattle Times reported last week.

What's happening at the UW will occur in some fashion at other state schools, from Washington State University to the regional schools -- Eastern, Western and Central.

Emmert's departure should serve as a reminder to lawmakers that the direction they've forced higher education is ultimately the wrong direction.

State government has an obligation to make higher education available, and affordable, to all.

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