Change comes too late

News that the University of Washington is going to create more spaces for incoming freshman students comes as a welcome change. But the decision is late.

A story in the Seattle Post Intelligencer on Friday reported that the university may increase enrollment by 1,700 at its three campuses over the next 10 years, of which just 600 will be in Seattle.

Some 20,000 high school graduates applied for freshman status this fall at the UW. Almost 8,000 were turned away. Most of them are highly qualified applicants and several were Mercer Island High School students. A similar situation occurred at Western Washington University, with 8,000 students applying for 2,600 spots, and to a lesser extent at Washington State University.

The state has told the universities to grant more degrees in the coming years. But in the meantime, hundreds if not thousands of qualified students are being educated out of state. The high school graduating class of 2008 is one of the largest in recent Washington state history. The students of that class have been around for 18 years — did no one notice? As residents and taxpayers of Washington, is it not a reasonable expectation that we can send our children to state universities or near home?

The news came a day after a story, also in the PI, indicated that the UW has built its endowment to over $2.6 billion, including a $400 million dollar gift from the Gates Foundation. Donations have been used to endow chairs and build new buildings. Certainly the business of running a university and delivering a top-flight education to thousands of young people is a complex task. However, from an outsider’s view, it seems that the priority list may need to be reshuffled.

The number of students applying to college will decline somewhat over the next few years, but unless the state and its universities make some big changes, finding a place at an in-state college will still prove to be elusive.

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