Washington lawmakers are heading home today after successfully completing their 2014 session on time last night. Their supplemental budget includes several critical provisions that will directly benefit students at Washington State University and throughout the state, and I thank them for that.
The budget rewrite continues to include sufficient funding to head off tuition increases for the second consecutive year, something WSU already has been planning for months. It’s one thing to simply freeze tuition, but it’s quite another to actually pay for it as the Legislature has done, allowing the university to make the investments it needs to ensure access and quality.
This means students and their families can breathe a little easier when it comes to planning how to cover their costs, especially after several years of having to deal with double-digit tuition increases.
The Legislature’s passage of the REAL Hope Act was perhaps its biggest accomplishment this year. The measure will finally provide access to the State Need Grant for undocumented students who already have attended our schools and lived in our communities for years. We strongly supported the legislation and have been proud supporters of the federal DREAM Act as well. This absolutely aligns with our institution’s philosophy and land-grant mission regarding open access to higher education.
I also am very pleased the Legislature made meaningful investments in student financial aid programs, including the Need Grant. While our financial aid programs remain dramatically underfunded, these new investments are a step in the right direction.
On another front, state lawmakers also approved the annual matching funds required for the Washington State-based Federal Aviation Administration Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment. The $500,000 annual investment will leverage at least $40 million in federal research funding over the next 10 years and was WSU’s top legislative priority.
WSU and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were selected in 2013 to lead the 16-university consortium, which will engage other research institutions, commercial firms and government laboratories to conduct research and education on a wide range of issues impacting the aerospace industry. Those include everything from the processing of aviation biofuels to mitigating aircraft noise and impacts to fostering environmentally friendly and energy efficient “gate to gate” aircraft operations. All of the work completed will strengthen our state’s position as the primary hub of aerospace innovation in the country.
The challenges that our elected officials face, even in a supplemental session, are many. I sincerely appreciate the positive results they continue to initiate and implement for Washington State University, higher education and our entire state.