Seattle Times Editorial: Crisis in state’s funding of higher education puts our future at risk

Kudos to the University of Washington for 150 years as a provider of educational excellence and access to our state’s best and brightest.

The sesquicentennial offers a compelling glance back at the school’s remarkable history and accomplishments, but the occasion can also serve as a reminder of the UW’s valued role as one of the region’s biggest economic engines.

The UW supports nearly 70,000 direct and indirect jobs and created 7,600 non-publicly-funded jobs in the past decade. The school gives better than it gets: Every dollar invested in the UW creates $22 in economic activity and $1.48 in tax revenue.

Reflections should rightly broaden to recognize the pivotal public role played by all of Washington’s public baccalaureate institutions. Their role is threatened by ongoing state disinvestment in higher education.

The numbers tell the story. Since the 2007-09 biennium, state lawmakers have cut funding by nearly $500 million, returning funding levels at the institutions to what they were more than a decade ago.

An expected grim economic forecast poses the threat of deeper cuts. That is despite the fact that these institutions have taken the brunt of state budget reductions, more so than social services.

A dire sense of urgency therefore drives the launch of The Greater Good Campaign by the Seattle Times Company.

The yearlong effort is expected to raise public awareness about higher education’s precarious funding and the risks this poses to future generations of Washington residents.

Other corporate leaders have joined the effort, including The Bellevue Collection, Safeco Insurance, Davis Wright Tremaine, Microsoft and Rowley Properties.

The public can help persuade lawmakers to recognize the role of higher education in creating a skilled, educated work force that can help lead Washington out of the recession. Collective voices are best at urging that the next legislative session include a stable source of funding for higher education and a position as a top priority in the state budget.

The Greater Good Campaign is offered as a critical challenge to the state’s mistreatment of our public universities.