Deep cuts to higher education take huge toll

The closing of the Women's Center at Walla Walla Community College and its IMPACT! program are examples.

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Washington state's colleges and universities have seen their public funding decline at a rapid rate in recent years.

State higher education funding decreased 8 percent in the current two-year budget over the previous budget. And the same sad story has been playing itself out year after year when the state government finds its tax revenues can't keep up with projected spending.

Higher education is seen as the low-hanging fruit for budget cuts because unlike K-12 education, there are no constitutional mandates calling for the state to fully fund it.

The cuts have come at such a fast pace it's forced colleges and universities to raise tuition by double digits annually in an effort fill in the budget gaps.

Unfortunately, the schools seem to be losing ground.

Last week Walla Walla Community College's Women's Center was closed after a series of budget cuts. In addition, the IMPACT! Life Transitions Program for displaced homemakers has been eliminated.

WWCC spokesman Clint Gabbard said the Women's Center suffered a blow last fall when the center's long-term director resigned and the position was not filled. Over the past year the Women's Center operated under reduced hours with direction from a woman who also managed the IMPACT! program.

That ended when lawmakers in Olympia cut funding for all Life Transitions programs around the state.

Gabbard said it's possible the center might reopen.

"We plan to evaluate this fall quarter and see if we can create a plan to maintain services in that center," he said.

In the meantime, an effort will be made to meet students' needs through other programs offered at the campus.

The Women's Center provided support and referral services and helped students with issues such as being single parents or displaced homemakers. The IMPACT! program offered free services such as counseling.

The services provided at the Women's Center are important.

Yet, a great many programs at the WWCC campus -- like every other college and university in the state -- are important.

The reality is the Legislature and college officials were faced with a budget crisis this year that resulted in spending cuts and good programs being axed.

Cuts to programs have real consequences. Lives will be changed as a result of the closing of the Women's Center at WWCC.

WWCC officials aren't happy about this and neither are legislators. Their options are limited, which has resulted in cutting programs once thought of as indispensable.

The ongoing cuts to higher education have gotten to the point where any new cuts will be devastating to somebody.

A long-term solution is needed to stop further cuts to higher education.

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