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State funds WWU Peninsula expansion, student success center

Western to receive millions, including nearly $48M for new center

Western Washington University parking building behind trees as students walk to their classes.
Western Washington University received millions from the Legislature to fund programs and projects over the next two years. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Hailey Hoffman Visual Journalist

The Washington state Legislature released its $69.2 billion budget for the 2023-25 biennium, and Western Washington University made away with tens of millions in funding for new buildings, programs and expansions between the operating budget and capital budget. 

One focus will be on expanding programs on the Olympic Peninsula’s satellite campuses, while a large chunk of the funding — nearly $48 million — will go toward a new student development and success center.

Operating budget funding

For the biennial operating budget, the university prioritized funding for compensation increases for employees, for new programs at the university’s campuses on the Olympic Peninsula, and first-year retention initiatives, according to the Department of Government Relations

The state agreed to fund 70% of a 4% general wage increase in fiscal year 2024 and a 3% increase in fiscal year 2025. The rest of the compensation increases will be funded by student tuition. In past years, the state has only funded 50% of compensation increases.

The university will receive $5.46 million to expand programs on the Olympic Peninsula. A bulk of that — $3.19 million — will go toward programs aimed at students who attend a community college for two years and transfer to a university for the last two for a bachelor’s degree. Additional funding will go toward other programs, like a Master of Social Work degree, and student outreach.

Western is seeking to expand the Peninsula satellite campuses in Bremerton, Poulsbo and Port Angeles, as part of its long-term strategic plan to increase enrollment and make higher education more accessible to all students.

An additional $1.57 million will go toward first-year math and writing instruction, first-year academic programs and disability accommodation counselors at the Bellingham campus. The goal is to use the money to increase retention of first-year students to keep them at Western.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, retention rates have fluctuated. For students who started between 2013 and 2018, between 81% and 82% returned for their second year. For students who started in 2021, 77.1% returned for a second year, according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness. 

“There’s a moral reason to make sure when students get here, we do what we can to [help them] graduate,” Western President Sabah Randhawa said in an April 7 interview.

Randhawa also noted the financial benefit of retention, which increases tuition revenue and aids in the rebound from budget shortfalls.

An additional $3 million will go toward critical updates to campus IT infrastructure. Western sought funding to replace and update the campus internet, servers, emergency telephone equipment and more general audio and video technology.

About $100,000 will go toward mental health first aid training, and the Small Business Development Center will receive $150,000 for technical assistance.

Capital budget funding

Western will receive nearly $80 million to fund capital projects across its Bellingham campus. 

A big ticket item is a new student development and success center, which received $47.9 million of a $53.75 million proposal. 

It will fund the design and construction of a new hub that would house advising, admissions, counseling, student health services and career development, and also serve as a welcome center for prospective students, according to Western budget documents. 

The university also requested $17 million, and received $6 million, for critical safety, access control, and fiber optics upgrades.

“There will be decisions made on campus as to which parts to prioritize, and which parts of this package might be considered for a resubmission either in the supplemental budget or a subsequent biennium,” Director of Government Relations Nora Selander said in an email. 

The $6 million will fund a portion of the proposal’s goals: to upgrade power and network equipment, to get rid of manual locks, to provide centralized lockdown functionality and to provide classrooms with internal locks. 

Additionally, Western received $500,000 for a pre-design to renovate the Environmental Studies Building; $1.5 million to upgrade classrooms, labs and collaborative spaces; $4.8 million in minor works preservation; and $3 million in minor works programs. Another $10 million will account for the heating conversion project, and $3.6 million will be directed toward system repairs.

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