SEATTLE -- The University of Washington has long relied on its reputation for excellence in education and research. But that reputation could soon be at risk.

Hard to recruit, hard to retain, under circumstances where resources are this tight, says Professor Paul Hopkins who chairs the Department of Chemistry. He's seen good professors come and unfortunately, more and more of them go. I lost three in one year.

Budget cuts mean UW is ripe for raids by other institutions. And there's less and less the school can do to stop it.

It's frustrating because it feels like a waste. To have invested in these faculty members for all those years and you get to that last productive phase and then to lose them? It feels like a waste for the state, says Hopkins.

Outside recruiting is, on the one hand, a sign of success since it demonstrates a strong talent pool. That's all well and good until the school finds itself in a much weaker position to counter.

It says that you're doing a great job but of course you want to be able put enough on the table that your colleagues don't just pick up and go, says Hopkins.

Compared to their peers, UW faculty were considered underpaid even before budget cuts. Add to that a three-year wage freeze? It's hard to compete.

I've seen articles before about brain drain, says UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce. It's real, it's real. And there are periods where that accelerates and we're in one of those periods now.

While it may be harder to compete with outside offers, school leaders aren't seeing any sign of a mass exodus. For now, at least.

UW is a great school with lots of great faculty. If they go out faster than new faculty come in, we'll be in trouble, says Hopkins.

And higher tuition costs mean higher expectations. Students like freshman Kevin Birrell worry they're not being met:

We've got a great reputation at UW and it's really unfortunate if that goes away due to some people's poor decisions, he says.

Cauce says it's still only affects a small fraction of the faculty.

I feel very good about the value students are getting here but there is every reason to be concerned about can we maintain that, she says.

Higher education in Washington has already been cut 44 percent since 2009. State legislators are still debating how much to cut this year.

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