Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Have your cake and eat it too? Microsoft and Boeing show true colors in higher ed funding debate

In a recent post on the Seattle PI blog, reporter and blogger Chris Grygiel comments on the “chutzpah” of Boeing and Microsoft for celebrating the “transformation” of higher education in Washington state.

What’s he talking about? Grygiel explains several bills passed by the Washington legislature have exacerbated years of severe cuts to Washington’s higher education system, leading to fundamental changes in financing. Among those changes: double digit percentage increases in tuition, fewer programs at community and technical colleges, and $500 million cut from higher education over the next biennium.

With a half a billion dollars slashed from higher education, Microsoft and Boeing have stepped in with a combined $50 million in scholarship dollars – which is slated to provide $1,000 each to about 10,000 needy students. That sounds good in principle, but with UW tuition now at $8,700 and likely to rise above $11,000 by 2012, nearly 30,000 undergraduate students competing for scholarships, and fewer programs offered because of budget cuts, those scholarships simply cannot make up for billions in cuts over the past several years.

Tuition and fees as a percentage of income in Washington state (click to enlarge)

Now, about that “chutzpah.” It’s not uncommon for Microsoft and Boeing – the same companies who rely on Washington universities to produce talented engineers, scientists and programmers – to make frequent statements in favor of increasing state support for higher education. But when it comes time to make those investments, their bona fides don’t match their publicly-professed values. Here’s a recent example:

“When states hit hard economic times, the higher-education budget gets hit harder than anything else,” said Brad Smith, vice president of Microsoft and a member of the governor’s task force on higher-education funding. “Creating a long-term sustainable foundation for higher education is something that is badly needed, and something no state in this country has done.”

This is the same Brad Smith who spoke out against Initiative 1098, which would have created that “long-term sustainable foundation” by taxing the rich to invest billions in education, ensuring Washington’s colleges and universities produce talented grads for Microsoft to hire. Instead, Microsoft (and Boeing) opposed I-1098, and applaud the Governor’s “transformation” while continuing their press blitz of hypocrisy.*

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. But Microsoft and Boeing are sure trying.

*To be fair, Governor Gregoire supported Initiative 1098.

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