As you unpacked your bags over the weekend, a man who could be the next governor sat down for a cup of coffee at a downtown Pullman café. This man was Jay Inslee. Inslee is a congressman from Washington’s First Congressional District and is running as the Democrat nominee against Republican candidate, State Attorney General Rob McKenna.
Inslee's visit as election day approaches emphasizes an influential transition for the future of higher education. A future that lies at the mercy of whatever deal can be struck between elected officials from the state Legislature to the Governor’s Office. Beyond funding, our educational institutions will require visionary leadership.
A Rob McKenna administration will offer the most concise, strategic, realistic plan for our universities and colleges. His goverance will steer them toward new adaptation to the challenges created by modernization and cut-throat academic competition.
Our state government has dealt with significant budget deficits and weak revenues caused by the Great Recession, partialy by cutting funding for higher education.
In 2011, President Elson S. Floyd and his colleagues on the Board of Regents were forced to craft a budget with about 30 percent less state funding - almost $100 million less - than in 2008, according WSU's Budget Office.
This, combined with swelling enrollment and the rapidly changing educational requirements of the 21st-century economy, has created serious problems that require real, sustainable, long-term solutions.
As head of state government, the next governor will have an instrumental role in offering solutions designed to solve these mounting and menacing obstacles.
Initially, the most obvious aspect of the plans lay in their similarities. Both candidates emphasize STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees for a stronger workforce in Washington over the coming decades, according to their respective campaign websites. Both see a future founded in technology and science and believe the state should move the focus of its institutions toward that end.
McKenna and Inslee also agree on a need to increase state funding. McKenna notes that only 8 percent of the state’s budget goes to higher education, a level he terms “unacceptable."Inslee believes the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program should continue. The program allows parents to purchase tuition at present-day prices for future attendance.
But, don’t let the similarities trick you into believing the plans are duplicates.
McKenna mentions a focus on enrolling more in-state students, an emphasis which he believes will not only keep but bring educated workers to Washington.
Inslee wants to increase cooperation between research universities and online degree programs to increase the number of eDegrees conferred across the state.
Specifically, McKenna mentions increasing state community college funding from its current 58 percent to 75 percent.
Inslee wants to identify regulatory burdens that stand between the institutions and commercialization of ideas and technology in order to increase revenue.
Education, particularly higher education, has become mandatory for a prosperous, flourishing economy in the modern age. I agree with Inslee that it is essential to “fix the leaky pipeline” between our state’s high schools and post-secondary institutions in order to improve the educational attainment and economic fulfillment of our people.
However, the congressman's vague funding projections fail to measure up to the provision of Article IX, Section I of the Washington State Constitution:"It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex."The attorney general's plan most adequately fills this constitutionally-mandated responsibility. Therefore, I support McKenna for governor.
When November rolls around and you come across the governor section of your ballot, let the candidates' proposed higher education policies weigh heavy on your mental scale. The education plan that will be implemented will echo into the future economy and culture of the state of Washington, and Rob McKenna's road map for higher education is the ticket to that prosperous Washington.