Hard financial times should open the door for needed reforms to higher education
'I am a huge supporter and champion for higher learning. We're going to have to change our expectations and our processes in order to meet the state's new economic realities however,' says Haler
Members of the state House Higher Education Committee were shown presentations this week by universities, four-year colleges, and community and technical colleges on the policy impacts of budget cuts.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, and ranking Republican on the committee, said it's evident to him the higher education community has taken more than its share of reductions due to the past and current state budget deficit.
“The fact is, if we want to continue our history of creating a highly educated workforce for the 21st Century, the cuts to higher education have to stop,” Haler said. “The first couple rounds of higher education cuts were accompanied by the ability for institutions to raise tuition, which kept the system moving. However, we can't balance the state's future budget problems on the backs of students with higher student loans and fees.”
While Haler said he doesn't want to see further cuts to higher education, he quickly followed up his comments by stressing that 'business as usual' within the higher education community needs to change.
“I am a huge supporter and champion for higher learning,” Haler said. “We're going to have to change our expectations and our processes in order to meet the state's new economic realities however. Our families and employers have had to adapt, restructure, reprioritize and make difficult – but needed – changes during these tough times; so should state government, and that includes the institutions that make up our higher education system.”
Haler said the national and state recession provides a unique opportunity to rethink the purpose and effectiveness of public-subsidized higher education. He said the greatest need is to identify the public goals that matter most so that efficient, effective state policies can be adopted to meet those goals.
“I've said it several times before, in regards to several different issues: This session cannot just be a numbers game; if it is, we lose,” Haler said. “Our financial crisis has to be more than just about the numbers – it should lead us into a whole new way of thinking about desired outcomes, possible processes, and what we want the future of higher education to look like.”
Haler said he would like to see an end to the practice of blindly funding “slots” at public institutions without regard to what those slots are, whether students finish and whether or not the greater public goal is accomplished. He said the focus has to turn away from the institutions themselves and onto the purpose for those institutions: the public's need for an energized economy and for reduced poverty.
“Simply put, we need more bang for our buck,” Haler said. “But in order to achieve that, we need to clearly define what we're trying to accomplish. We need to prioritize so that certain reforms bring better results from limited resources.”
Haler offered a few reform ideas he'd like to see debated:
- Offer incentives to students and schools for finishing degrees on time;
- Offer incentives to accomplish strategic degree completion;
- Make financial aid about job placement;
- Encourage the growth of the private sector capacity to meet the public interest in higher education;
- Let competition put the consumer in charge;
- Offer incentives for employers to recruit and subsidize their workforce training needs; and
- Enable institutions to have the flexibility to manage their affairs so they can earn the consumer's business, meet community needs and accomplish state-subsidized objectives.
“We're in tough financial times,” concluded Haler. “Traditionally, higher education does not stack up well against other basic government necessities like public safety, caring for the disabled or educating our children. Now is the time to open the door to necessary reforms that will place the public's investments in higher education on a more efficient and effective path.”
Contact: Sarah Lamb, Public Information Officer, (360) 786-7720
###Washington State House Republican Communications