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Dear Members of the UW Community:

This message is longer than usual and is filled with information about our ongoing budget discussions with legislators; with faculty, students, and staff; and with external stakeholders. We clearly face enormous challenges. The most immediate impact will be felt by the time we decide on the UW FY12 budget, and the longer-term impact will be felt for many years. But our students continue to produce wonderful news; their accomplishments remind us why we come to work every day. If you want to read the good news about our students first, you can skip to that section by clicking here, and then come back to read about our budget challenges. The bottom line is we remain committed to figuring out how to provide access to a world-class education to students who want to come to the UW.

Last Tuesday, the Washington State Senate released its operating budget proposal for the 2011–13 biennium. So we now have proposals from the Governor, the House, and the Senate. They had the unenviable task of writing balanced budgets as state revenues have continued to decline. Recognizing that deep cuts were in store, the Governor and legislators tried to mitigate the effects of reduced state appropriations with significant increases in tuition, as they did for the current biennium. The result is that while our state funding has decreased dramatically, our students and their families are paying much more.

We have seen a dramatic shift in recent years in who pays for higher education in our state. Twenty years ago, the state paid 80 percent of the cost of educating a student. Today, that percentage is less than 45 percent and heading downward. We recognize the impact this has on students and are very concerned about it. However, we also recognize that this shift is necessary if the University is to maintain access to and excellence in our programs. Through the unified efforts of many in the higher education community who have worked tirelessly to advocate in Olympia this session, the Governor and legislators understand that a combination of state support and tuition must cover the total cost of education: As state support erodes, tuition will increase to make up for the gap. The UW Office of Planning & Budgeting has prepared two briefs that provide a thorough analysis of the budget proposals from the House and the Senate, which you can read here and here.

People across our UW community have invested enormous time, thought, and energy into planning for the difficult budget decisions expected to be made. Provost Lidstrom has conducted an inclusive, strategic budget review process in which she has met with senior leadership as well as faculty and student leaders from our schools and colleges to discuss how to preserve and strengthen the quality of our academic mission in an environment of rapidly declining state funding. You can read her message about that process here. It has been a good process, and it will enable us to make smart decisions going forward, helping to ensure that we not only stay true to our mission in the short term, but that the University is well positioned to thrive in the 21st century.

Even with all of the strategic planning that has been done, however, it cannot eliminate the impacts of cuts in all of the budget proposals. Indeed, as many of you have already read and seen in the local media, in planning for next year’s freshman class, we made the painful decision to decrease our enrollment target for Washington residents by 150 students and replace them with nonresidents. This means that if we hit our targets, our freshman class will be 68 percent resident, compared with 73 percent last year. We also will continue to admit 30 percent of our undergraduates as community college transfers, so our overall undergraduate resident population will still exceed 80 percent. Contrary to some reports in the media, the nonresident students admitted are just as qualified as the resident students they are replacing. We felt forced to do this because with the historic loss of state funding, we needed to increase our revenue yield from nonresident students to help maintain excellence for all of our students.

There’s still much discussion and negotiation ahead in the state budget process. In the coming weeks, legislators from both chambers will be working to reach agreement on a budget, which will then be sent to the Governor for final approval. During this time, the UW will continue to have an active presence in Olympia as we work with our state leaders and our colleagues in higher education to find creative, sustainable solutions to our economic challenges. We hope in particular that before the session adjourns, the Legislature will enact a different model for funding the University.

To help keep everyone up to date on developments regarding our budget, I will be holding a series of community conversations at different venues across the Seattle campus. The format will be similar to the town hall meeting I held in March, but on a smaller, more informal scale. I will give a brief presentation on the latest information followed by Q&A. The details for three conversations are listed below. I invite you to attend as many as you would like, since the fluid times means that my updates will be different each week, and certainly the questions will be different. They will be recorded for later viewing on the Web if you cannot attend.

On a brighter note, in the midst of these turbulent economic times, it has been wonderful and heartening to see our students continue to achieve at very high levels. Four of our undergraduates — Mark Bun, Ben Dulken, Jane Hung, and Cameron Turtle — recently earned Goldwater Scholarships, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for students aspiring to be scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. Among some of our other national awardees, Andrew Lewis was selected as a 2011 Truman Scholar based on his outstanding leadership potential and commitment to public service; Anshika Kumar was chosen for a Morris K. Udall Scholarship, which will help her pursue further education and research opportunities in environmental economics; and Byron Gray is one of only twenty students nationwide to receive a Beinecke Scholarship for graduate study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. A team of UW Computer Science & Engineering students recently took first place in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. And I had the distinct pleasure of presenting the Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior Medals to Jennifer Kang, Gracie Ingermanson, and Krysta Yousoufian, respectively.

I am so proud to see these and other UW students recognized for their talent and hard work. Likewise, I’m very proud of — but not surprised by — how deeply committed our University community continues to be to maintaining the excellence of the UW academic experience. Although the stress and strain of our ongoing funding challenges have been felt throughout our UW community, settling for mediocrity clearly is not an acceptable alternative to preserving quality for our faculty, staff, and students who continue to show remarkable spirit, dedication, and creativity. I know that these are difficult times for everyone, and I am greatly appreciative of all that you are doing in the face of our budget woes.

I will continue to keep you informed as the budget process moves along, and I hope you will be able join me at one or more of the community conversations.

Image of Phyllis Wise's signature

Phyllis M. Wise
Interim President