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Years Of Growth At WSU Came With A Lot Of Debt

Jeremy Segrott is licensed under cc by 2.0
Washington State University Visitor Center

Washington State University is facing a $30 million budget deficit. University President Kirk Schulz is calling for 2.5 percent cuts in all departments to get the school back in the black in the next three years. 

The situation has raised a lot of questions about how all this happened. KNKX Morning Edition Producer Ariel Van Cleave turned to Spokesman-Review higher education reporter Chad Sokol for some answers. 

Interview highlights

Expansion came with debt: "(University President Kirk) Shulz has made it clear that the deficit didn't materialize on his watch. He said the university created all kinds of positions in recent years that were never really intended to be permanent. He said the university had added nearly 750 positions in the previous five years and it accounted for a $96 million payroll increase. And he said that before (University Provost Daniel) Bernando took over as interim president, this just wasn't something the higher ups at the university were paying attention to."

Football program's role: "The athletics department has definitely drawn a lot of attention, and sports always do. Last time I checked its deficit was around $13 million, and that's a pretty big chunk of money. But you gotta remember it's not uncommon for athletics departments at big state schools, especially in the PAC 12, to have big deficits. The University of Washington's athletics' deficit was nearly $15 million last year. It's not an excuse, but it is fairly common."

Budget balancing casualties: "WSU's Performing Arts Program is not a college, it doesn't have students, it's not offering degrees. It was created in 2011 during President Floyd's tenure. Basically what it does is brings musicians and theater performances and hosts the school's improv troupe, which is made up of students. The problem was this program was not funded with state or tuition money, and it relied really heavily on ticket sales. Students don't pay for tickets. It also has relied pretty heavily on reserve funds, so when the university decided that it needs to stop spending so much out of reserves, the program really had no other option."

Ariel first entered a public radio newsroom in 2004 while in school at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. It was love at first sight. After graduating from Bradley, she went on to earn a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. Ariel has lived in Indiana, Ohio and Alaska reporting on everything from salmon spawning to policy issues concerning education. She's been a host, a manager and now rides shotgun with Kirsten Kendrick as the Morning Edition producer at KNKX.