Local Universities Brace For Deep Budget Cuts

CHENEY — Higher education officials in Washington state are bracing for unprecedented cuts after the State Legislature called for more than $500 Million to be cut from state colleges and universities.

“I knew it was going to be bad, but this is a shock seeing the actual numbers,” Senior Matt Holmes said.

As a senior majoring in government, Holmes is getting a real world lesson in the 2009 legislative session. For 10 weeks Holmes worked hard in Olympia trying to persuade lawmakers to keep higher education off the chopping block.

“In conversation after conversation legislators would say yeah I understand, I agree with you higher education is important, but the deficit is just so big we may not be able to do anything,” Holmes said.

With a $9 Billion state deficit the senate proposes cutting more than $500 Million from higher education. The house proposes cutting just over $600 million.

Under the senate proposal tuition would go by seven-percent. Under a house proposal tuition would go up another three to ten-percent.

“It’s obviously the worse thing that can happen for students especially students in the middle class,” Matt Holmes said.

“It’s really disappointing because it just puts it a little further out of reach for people that already have struggles with going to school,” EWU student Lila Vlavianos said.

The proposed cuts would reduce Eastern’s budget by up to $25 Million over the next two years, making it the largest budget crisis university president Dr. Rodolfo Arevalo has ever dealt with in his 35 years in education.

“Very serious … it eats at the core, begins to look at eating at the core of the university. It’s not trimming around the edges, it’s the core you’re having to maintain,” Dr. Arevalo said.

Dr. Arevalo says the university may have to cut up to 100 staff positions, reduce elective courses and the number of students admitted. So far the proposed budgets create more questions than answers.

“How am I going to be able to provide for the number of students that want to come here,” Dr. Arevalo asked.

Holmes, meanwhile is planning a student rally for Wednesday to try and send a message to Olympia before state lawmakers approve the budget in April.

“It’s pretty simple when it comes down to what the students want. They don’t want to pay more and they want to be able to get the degree they came here to get,” Holmes said.