UW Impact’s Position on the Proposed Workforce Education Investment Fund

It’s Day 74 of the 2019 Legislative Session, and alumni across the state have visited, called, and sent more than 1200 messages to their lawmakers in support of the UW and higher education since the session began in January. Our message? Advocating for the three funding priorities our alumni identified in statewide polls in 2015 and 2018 as most important for the UW: high demand skills and degrees, affordability and access for students, and quality and excellence in education.

The Washington State House of Representatives released its budget proposal on Monday, and we happily note that the budget provides a significant and comprehensive investment on two of these priorities: providing high demand skills and degrees, and ensuring affordability and access for students.

The House budget demonstrates real progress toward state reinvestment across the spectrum of higher education, from training programs to community and technical colleges to universities. While our lawmakers have worked to restore funding since the deep cuts of the Great Recession, we’ve seen incremental investments in higher education during a decade of burgeoning demand from both students and employers. The House’s budget proposal now attempts to meet this demand by investing millions at all three UW campuses, and at public institutions statewide, in programs that meet current and future workforce needs.

To fund these programs, the House proposes that businesses benefitting from a highly skilled labor force invest in workforce training with an increase on the business and occupation (B&O) rate on certain types of professional services (HB 2158). This dedicated revenue would go into a new “workforce education investment fund.” UW President Ana Mari Cauce, Vice Chair of the State Board for Technical and Community Colleges Wayne Martin, and Microsoft President Brad Smith advocated for the creation of this fund in a recent Seattle Times op-ed.

UW Impact supports the creation of a workforce education investment fund because it makes progress toward the aforementioned alumni-identified priorities:

  • High-demand skills and degrees: This funding would expand engineering enrollments at UW Seattle, establish civil and mechanical engineering degrees at UW Tacoma, provide for the new biomedical innovation partnership zone at UW Bothell, and continue the STARS “academic redshirt” program for under-represented students in engineering.
  • Access and affordability: Revenues from this fund would support thousands of students who have qualified for the State Need Grant but haven’t been able to receive it due to budget shortfalls.

UW Impact acknowledges there are many different points of view on the prospect of a dedicated funding source for higher education. The workforce education investment fund offers a sustainable source of revenue in an increasingly unpredictable funding environment for higher education and ensures that the higher education sector isn’t competing for these funds with other sectors. Among the reasons UW Impact supports the proposed fund is that it is limited to the industries that directly benefit from the degrees produced by this fund (as opposed to a general tax increase). It wisely invests during boom times so that students, families, and public higher education institutions don’t suffer again from deep cuts during a recession. Core funding such as ongoing compensation costs, maintenance, and other expenses will still be addressed by the state’s general fund. As this proposal moves through the legislative process, UW Impact will keep the UW Alumni Association membership’s diverse viewpoints in mind and look for opportunities to suggest changes that reflect these viewpoints.

One item appears to be lacking from the House budget: adequate support for faculty and staff compensation, which is critical to quality and excellence. We look forward to mobilizing advocates to speak to their representatives about increasing this support, and seeing how the Senate budget, due out Friday, compares on this key point.

Have an opinion to share about the House proposal? Tell us about it at info@uwimpact.org.

The opinions expressed in this statement reflect those of the Executive Committee of the University of Washington Alumni Association Board of Trustees, an independent 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. This program uses no public resources or public employees in support of its UW Impact advocacy program.