Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Straight A student can’t compete for college against billions in corporate tax loopholes

A recent article in the Seattle Times titled Why straight-A’s may not get you into the UW this year explores the real-world impacts of state budget cuts on high school seniors, including Chief Sealth student Brandon Stover.

Stover, the valedictorian at Chief Sealth high school with a 4.0 GPA, was rejected from the University of Washington. But his case isn’t unusual in this year of dramatic budget cuts, which has seen many highly-qualified Washington high school seniors turned away by the UW. It’s simply indicative of a larger problem: the underfunding at Washington’s colleges and universities.

Years of dramatic budget cuts have stripped away Washington’s traditionally strong state support of higher education, which kept college affordable and available to every qualified student for decades (see graph below). The result: program cuts and staff layoffs at the University of Washington and other state institutions of higher education, with more on the way. This has led administrators, no longer able to rely on state support, to look for other financing options.

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

One recourse (proven to limit access) is increasing tuition, but even with tuition hikes of 14% in each of the past two years, the UW is still struggling to backfill cuts by the state. So administrators have arrived at a different solution. The UW will bring in more out-of-state students who pay nearly three times more in tuition than in-state students like Stover. From the Times:

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.

A decision based squarely on economics? Bottom-line decision are supposed to be made by businesses, not public institutions that provide for the public good. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat hits the nail on the head in his follow-up article, UW gives us what we asked for:

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.

From the budget cuts at the UW to cuts in preventive care, prenatal services and disability programs, perhaps now would be a good time to reevaluate our priorities as Washingtonians.

It’s time to ask ourselves whether billions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways should be subsidizing private business at the expense of educational and economic opportunity for generations to come. Instead of throwing money at private business, we should invest in people like Brandon Stover – which will pay dividends for generations to come.

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