Seattle Times: UW Gives Us What We Ask For

You know how the UW is turning away local valedictorians in favor of high-priced, out-of-state students, and everybody’s gone Husky purple with rage?

“This is an outrageous and egregious abuse of power,” read one of the 700-plus Web comments on an article about the UW’s policy last weekend.

“If my son and daughter, who have excellent grades, don’t get accepted to UW, in favor of out of state, legal and illegal aliens, a class-action lawsuit is the only way we can take our university back,” wrote another.

A father of a girl with a 3.8 GPA wrote to me: “Reading about the UW’s preference for out-of-state students made me very angry. How can our university, funded with our taxes, simply go elsewhere to get its students?”

Because it is doing what we forced it to do? Which was to act more like a business?

I’m sorry to be flip. But for decades now we’ve heard the demand that government needs to be more like business. Can’t it be more self-sufficient, more attuned to the bottom line?

Well, yes it can. This is what it looks like.

Passing over local kids to admit out-of-staters — who pay three times as much to go to school there — is the corporatization, the privatization, of your flagship public university. And it’s about to escalate, dramatically.

Causing the furor this spring is that the UW cut its slots for local students in next fall’s freshman class by 150. That’s a reduction of about 4 percent in the in-state enrollment.

It did so because it has had its taxpayer support cut so sharply that it had to go find money from somewhere else. So it’s admitting more students willing to pay the out-of-state rate of $25,000 a year versus the in-state rate of only $9,000.

With huge cuts also coming for the next two years, UW officials project they will have to cut up to 500 slots for local kids for the 2012-13 freshman class. In other words, take this year’s front-page story and triple it.

People seem really hacked off about this. But it’s exactly what we told them to do. Make do with less.

Sheesh, we weren’t even willing to go along with a temporary, 2-cents-per-can tax on soda pop last year. Now we’re going to get all indignant when the UW looks to the other 49 states because we’re too cheap?

Twenty-five years ago, students paid only $1,500 a year to go there — the state’s share was more than $8,000. That’s why it was called a public school — we picked up 85 percent of the tab.

Today it’s only 45 percent taxpayer-subsidized. The student pays $9,000, the taxpayers $7,000. In two years, it’s projected to be student $11,500, state $4,500. None of these figures is corrected for inflation, meaning the erosion in public support for the UW is even more dramatic than these numbers imply.

We’re headed, rapidly, toward the total privatization of the UW. The good news is there won’t be this in-state, out-of-state controversy anymore. It will be pure meritocracy, equally expensive to all (unless you qualify for financial aid).

Is this bad? Depends on how generous the financial aid, but I think so.

Some things aren’t supposed to run like businesses. When America made the expensive choice to make college all but free after World War II, it turned out to be one of the all-time great engines of prosperity. It was also socialism, but shhhh … these days we edit that part out.

Today, it’s all about market solutions, not public benefits. Voters demand it. In Congress they’re even talking about privatizing Medicare. We’re apparently no more willing to pay extra for health care for seniors than we are for college educations, so in lieu the answer is to run it all like a business.

OK, done. People this week are asking why their public university jilted them. But it was the other way around.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or