Friday Rant: University of Washington Ramps Up Revenue, Ignoring Its Mission

Ah, my alma mater. Boasting probably the most gorgeous cherry blossomed quad and the only football stadium you can BOAT to (imagine my surprise when there wasn't smoked salmon at Big 10 games), it's a wonderfully high-tech campus with one of the best medical schools (not to mention crew teams!) in the country. But if you're a Washington resident and you want to go to UW, your best bet at the moment isn't to get straight A's and ace the SAT. You might actually be better off moving out of state for high school and applying from there.

It's the practice of any good business to go where the money is -- but what about in higher education? This article in Seattle's "Alternative Paper," The Stranger, explains how "prospective students and their parents were understandably outraged when the University of Washington recently announced that it was cutting the available slots for in-state freshmen by three percent at the Seattle campus, in order to make room for more lucrative nonresidents." A further article in The Seattle Times only expounds the problem further: "The decision is based squarely on economics: Nonresident students in effect subsidize the education of Washington residents, providing a much-needed boost in revenue at a time the UW could see its funding cut by $200 million over the next biennium."

I realize that a school must be discerning in choosing its student body, and that several factors go into choosing who gets the fat envelope versus the skinny rejection letter. But I see this decision as creating an endless cycle of spending stupidity. The University of Washington is by far the superior public university in the state -- and rejected (yet highly qualified) students must now sacrifice the best education they could get if they want to pay in-state tuition. If they want a similar caliber school, they'll have to go out of state and pay triple the amount or go private.

This being said, in-state tuition may not even be as advantageous anymore. "...Last year, resident tuition jumped by 13.1 percent, while nonresident tuition only rose by 3.9 percent, well less than the annual 5.6 percent public four-year tuition inflation reported by the College Board." Not much of a deal, really.

I realize that this isn't completely UW's fault -- "Legislators have slashed support for higher education by more than 50 percent over the past two budgets, demanding that our universities cut costs and operate more like a business." But it's also a bit ironic that by cutting the number of in state acceptances, UW will unwittingly increase support among the voting public for the education budget slashing of their legislators that gave rise to their dilemma in the first place.

I'm also incensed that universities now focus more upon students as paying customers, thereby diminishing the long honored practice of merited placement based on achievement and accepting the best students to further the academic mission of the university. After all, Washington's high school graduates are more likely to leave: "that net out-migration, as it's termed, is the fifth-highest nationally among the states, and is a concern among policymakers, who fear the state's failure to grow its higher-education system will have long-term economic consequences." UW is a fantastic school, and I'd like to see more in-state students be able to stay there, calling "home" their alma mater -- as well as a state policy that honors its tax base and citizens.

- Sheena Moore

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