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Senate capital budget comes up big for WSU

The Senate capital budget released this morning fully funds most of WSU’s streamlined capital budget request.

The following requests are fully funded under the proposal:

  • $40 million for minor works preservation projects to address deferred maintenance needs across the WSU system.
  • $13 million for minor works program projects across the WSU system — essentially small scale renovations and equipment purchases.
  • $40 million for pair with philanthropic funds to build a new student services building for the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture in Pullman.
  • $22 million to renovate parts of Eastlick, Abelson and Bustad halls on the Pullman campus in anticipation of the future replacement of Heald Hall.
  • $7 million to design a new Team Health Education Building at WSU Spokane to provide simulation training space for health sciences students.
  • $10 million to begin a renovation of the Knott Dairy Center in Pullman.
  • $8 million to renovate two floors of Bustad Hall in Pullman to support the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Simulation-Based Education program.
  • $5 million to support efforts to meet the state’s new clean building standards.

The only project not funded was a $10 million space optimization project for the Pullman campus to consolidate library collections and free up space in the core of campus to be repurposed.

The Senate capital budget was scheduled to be heard in the Ways and Means Committee Monday afternoon and WSU’s testimony can be viewed below.

The Senate operating budget, which will be released later this week, is slated for a hearing on Friday. The House will then produce its budget proposals. After both chambers approve their respective budgets, negotiators will meet to hammer out a deal in time for this year’s scheduled April 23 adjournment.

Data equity bill advances from Senate

The state’s K-12 coordinating entity, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and public institutions of higher education would be required to enter into data sharing agreements to help inform Washington high school students about postsecondary educational opportunities, according to a bill passed by the Senate with a vote of 40-8 late Friday.

Senate Bill 5593 requires school districts to work with OSPI to provide information from their high school directories, such as a student’s name, email and mailing addresses, and provide that information through data sharing agreements with the state’s public institutions of higher education by November each year. It also tasks OSPI with identifying a process for providing student enrollment information back to school districts.

Currently, the state’s public colleges and universities provide information regarding postsecondary offerings to roughly half of the high school graduates in the state. Data sharing agreements would help reach the remainder of the high school students who may not otherwise know about these opportunities. Amidst a workforce shortage, the information provided through the agreements would help students, especially those historically underrepresented in the college-going culture, learn that postsecondary education is both attainable and affordable for them. At WSU in 2022, 37 percent of resident undergraduate students paid no tuition and 50 percent of those students graduated with no loan debt, up from 35.6 percent in 2015. Affordability continues to improve as impacts from the Washington College Grant, considered one of the best state financial aid programs in the country, continue to be realized.

WSU, along with the other public baccalaureate institutions and community and technical colleges supported the bill when it was heard in committee. SB 5593 now heads to the House, ahead of Wednesday’s floor cutoff.

Bill to align state college grant with federal standard supported by Senate

A bill that would extend the number of years a student can receive the Washington College Grant was moved out of the Senate with a vote of 48-1 on Thursday afternoon. If passed, SB 5711 would make a student eligible to receive six years or up to 150 percent of the length of the student’s academic program.

The Washington College Grant, previously known as the State Need Grant, was made an entitlement by the Legislature in 2019 under HB 2158 with five years of eligibility. The grant is the state’s largest financial aid program, providing awards to students from low income backgrounds to pursue postsecondary education. As an entitlement program, those who meet the median family income threshold requirements are guaranteed funding. By extending the college grant to six years, the program is brought in line with the Federal Pell Grant, allowing students to leverage support from both grant funds to complete their education.

Collin Bannister, the legislative representative for ASWSU, testified in support of the bill when it was heard last month in the Senate Ways and Means committee. Bannister shared:

“This bill will increase graduation and retention rates in college students, not only at WSU but also all public universities across the state. Over a third of WSU students are current college grant recipients and may not have attended without it. Being a college grant recipient myself, I am able to be here representing my peers.”

The bill moves to the House, ahead of Wednesday’s floor cutoff. You can find Bannister’s testimony below.

Senate passes bill that would make student homelessness pilot program permanent

Senate Bill 5702, which would make permanent a state pilot program that offers support services to students facing homelessness and foster youth, cleared the Senate on Thursday with a 46-3 vote.

The Students Experiencing Homelessness and Foster Youth Pilot Program was first established by the Legislature in 2019 under SB 5800, which made available certain basic needs accommodations like short-term housing and reduced-price meals at certain institutions of higher education. In addition to making the program permanent, the bill this year would expand to all public colleges and universities in the state, including the state’s tribal college, Northwest Indian College.

WSU has participated in the pilot program since its inception and strongly supports the effort to make it permanent. This bill now heads to the House.

Bill to expand alternative jet fuels research and use clears Senate

A bill that seeks to facilitate the use and production of alternative jet fuels passed off the Senate floor Wednesday evening with a vote of 46-2. Among preferential tax adjustments, SB 5447 would also codify a work group convened by Washington State University.

Initially convened in 2012, the Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Work Group is tasked with gathering stakeholders from scientists to industry experts in order to develop recommendations for business, research, and policy published through a report to the Legislature and the governor. The sponsor of the bill, Senator Andy Billig, remarked about WSU’s expertise in this area “WSU, along with MIT, are the leading academic institutions in research for sustainable aviation fuels. In fact, WSU is a FAA Center for Excellence in sustainable aviation fuels.”

WSU researchers are exploring energy sources, testing, supply-chain logistics and policy in the quest for sustainable air transportation. WSU is a co‑leader of ASCENT with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a consortium of research universities, government agencies, national laboratories, and private industry partners convened by the Federal Aviation Administration nearly a decade ago.

WSU testified in support of Section 5 of the bill when it was heard in the Senate Environment & Energy committee in January. You can watch that testimony on the bill below:


The bill now heads to the opposite chamber, where it once again navigates the committee process in the House.

February collections report near November forecast

Collections did not deviate far from the November revenue forecast, according to a monthly Economic and Revenue update released by the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

The February report showed tax collections marginally higher than expected, up $5.2 million or 0.2 percent. Including the other monthly reports since the November forecast, tax collections are cumulatively up by $88.6 million or 1.1 percent.  The additional growth came from increases in Revenue Act collections, such as sales, B&O and utility taxes, which were offset by underperforming property tax collections which returned lower than forecasted for the month.

The reality of a relatively flat February report suggests the next revenue forecast set to be released on March 20th may project small or stagnant growth in the budget outlook. Legislators will utilize that forecast to draft their budget proposals, before agreeing on a compromised final budget by Sine Die on April 23rd.

Bill to approve tuition rates sooner voted unanimously off Senate floor

Legislation that would provide Washington’s public universities the ability to set tuition sooner was voted off the Senate floor with unanimous support Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 5079 would require the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to communicate the maximum allowable increase in tuition under state law to public higher education institutions by October 1 for the following academic year. This would allow universities the ability to establish tuition rates and finalize financial aid offers earlier in the recruitment cycle. Currently that doesn’t happen until May at WSU for an academic year that begins in August.

The prime sponsor leading this bipartisan effort, Sen. Braun, explained in his speech just prior to the 49-0 floor vote that:

“OFM makes the calculation in March of each year, so as the schools go through the admission and recruiting process, and they send their letters out in the Fall, they cannot say for certain what tuition will be…Instead of making the calculation in March of each year, let’s do the calculation in October so that schools have certainty as they make their offers of admission and parents and students have certainty as they determine what the best step is for them.”

The bill was supported by WSU when it was heard in committee in January. The bill now heads to the House. You can view the full remarks on the bill’s passage off the Senate below.

New engineering building will be a game changer

This legislative session, WSU is asking state lawmakers to support construction of a new engineering student services building on the Pullman campus which touches all three pillars of the university-wide capital budget request:

  • It represents a high university priority found on a streamlined and disciplined list of requests
  • It supports the elimination of deferred maintenance by facilitating the eventual demolition of aging Dana Hall; and
  • It most notably leverages state support with private fundraising

The university is requesting $40 million in the 2023-25 capital budget the Legislature will send to the governor in April. The governor already has proposed funding the project in his budget proposal released in December. If successful, that will leverage another $40 million being raised privately, which includes generous donations from Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, The Boeing Company, and others. The $80 million investment would provide modern amenities for students in high-demand fields at the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture while also providing core infrastructure replacement in the engineering precinct on the Pullman campus for additional future enhancements.

This modern facility would enable WSU to provide future generations of engineering and computer science students with functional meeting and collaboration space along with advising and tutoring in a single location. This project will also allow WSU to vacate and eventually demolish Dana Hall, which was constructed in 1949. This 90,000 square foot, 73-year-old hall has never been renovated and it lacks appropriate restroom facilities, fundamental ADA access for entering the building or moving between floors, amongst many other structural issues. It has an $18 million deferred maintenance backlog and is one of the highest energy consumers on the Pullman campus.

Conceptual renderings of the proposed building are above and below. New renderings will be generated during the design phase of the project. The facility is expected to be built at the intersection of SE Spokane Street and NE College Avenue.

Native American Scholarship bill advances from committee

Legislation that would establish a Native American Scholarship Program was voted out of the House Committee on Postsecondary Education and Workforce on Friday.

If funded, House Bill 1399 would provide funds equal to resident tuition and fees to eligible applicants who:

  • Are members of a federally recognized Indian tribe
  • Have filled out a financial aid application; and
  • Are enrolled in a Washington college, university or apprenticeship program

WSU staff, faculty and students declared their support for this bill during the committee hearing last month and noted how the bill will make a generational impact on tribal communities.

The bill now advances to the House Appropriations committee.

Regents engage legislators in Olympia on higher education priorities

Pic. 1 – Regents, trustees and university liaisons representing Washington’s public bachelorette institutions

Regents and trustees from Washington’s public baccalaureate institutions met with state legislators in Olympia on Thursday, discussing top priorities facing the state’s colleges including compensation, workforce and infrastructure needs.

Regents Jenette Ramos and Enrique Cerna participated on behalf of WSU in the event known as Regents and Trustees Day, which has been held remotely the past two years. The group brought an important voice back to Olympia as members of the governing boards at the state’s colleges and universities advocated in unison for their institution’s top priority of enhanced compensation for faculty and staff, an inflation undermining effort to retain quality faculty and staff and combat the rising cost of living. They also advocated for student success programs and workforce development efforts that the institutions are pursuing state support for in this session. Such requests include WSU priorities to support College of Nursing re-accreditation and establish new degree programs in social work and public health.

Lastly, regents and trustees requested capital budget support for infrastructure needs shared across college campuses. At WSU, this includes requests to support deferred maintenance efforts, build a new engineering student success building in Pullman, renovate a series of aging facilities on the Pullman campus and design a new Team Health Building in Spokane.

Pic. 2 – Rep. Drew Hansen speaks to the group over lunch