Inside Opinion

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Tag: higher education


A surprisingly good budget from a divided Legislature

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The 2013 Legislature can’t be judged a success because it failed to approve the major highway improvements needed to keep Washington’s economy growing.

That said, lawmakers deserve praise for pulling together a surprisingly good operating budget last week in the face of deadline pressure.

For months, the Legislature was locked in the kind of partisan gridlock that has all but paralyzed the budget-writing process in Congress.

The Democrats who run the state House of Representatives were pushing to preserve the social safety net by ending a collection of tax breaks and

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Campus ‘diversity’ does not equal affirmative action

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Race-conscious college admissions survived a near miss in the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The court might have forbidden the University of Texas from giving any consideration whatsoever to race in attempting to create a diverse student body.

That would have would shaken the world of higher education, which has gotten the once-precise concept of affirmative action entangled with the vaguer agenda of ethnic diversity.

Instead, the justices decided the case on narrow procedural grounds, scolding two lower courts for not taking a harder look at whether the UT might be using race to unfairly exclude applicants. The young woman who’d argued she’d been shut out because she was white won the right to put the UT on trial – but the Supreme Court didn’t overturn past rulings that schools can use race to assemble a medley of students.

This discussion needs more honesty. The honesty would begin by acknowledging that the term “diversity” is often used as a proxy for affirmative action, because the latter term seems to be falling out of fashion. But affirmative action would be a stronger foundation for any kind of race-based consideration.

Affirmative action has a straightforward goal: helping clearly disadvantaged students who’ve historically been frozen out of the economic mainstream.

It also implies real metrics. For example, if white men are earning college degrees at twice the rate of black men, we know there’s something amiss. Knowing that, we can look for causes and remedies. One of those remedies might be extra help qualifying for college, not necessarily extra points from the admissions office.

Love affirmative action or hate it, it has the virtue of clarity.
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A Web raid on traditional higher ed

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The Internet keeps on disrupting higher education – sometimes even in a good way. The latest example is the Open Course Library just completed by Washington’s two-year colleges.

The library ( is an online trove of free courses and free or low-cost textbooks developed by local faculty members. The materials cover 81 of Washington’s most popular lower-division classes – principles of accounting, microbiology, symbolic logic, English composition, etc.

The whole enterprise, begun in 2011, bypasses the traditional trappings of college. No big, expensive textbooks, no snoozing in the back of lecture halls, no classrooms.

Price is the selling point. The courses are free, with downloadable content, and the textbooks cost at most $30. In contrast, commercial textbooks can cost well upward of $100 apiece.
The price difference can be decisive for a student struggling along on a meager income. One poll by USA Today suggested that 40 percent of college students didn’t buy a required textbook for lack of money.

The Open Course Library was a joint venture of Washington’s two-year colleges, the Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the colleges provided the intellectual grunt work; lawmakers and the foundation provided $1.5 million in start up money.

This shouldn’t be oversold. Commercial textbooks can be written by academic giants, designed by pedagogical experts, and difficult to match at the local level. Easy as they are to vilify, textbook publishers are a critical part of higher education; it might not be a good thing if competing freebies forced them to slash their investments in high-end books, DVDs and websites.
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State college opportunity remains in Great Recession

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Some lawmakers have big plans for helping students get college and technical degrees. Unfortunately, they don’t have big plans for paying for it.

The Legislature’s record of funding college opportunity is abysmal, even factoring in the economic whirlwinds of the Great Recession. It typically uses the higher education system – universities, community and technical colleges – as a fiscal piggy bank. It’s the easiest thing to break when money runs short.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently released a report on what’s happened to public colleges since the recession hit.

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Wrong year for grants to undocumented students

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Need grants for undocumented students is a good idea whose time hasn’t come. It shouldn’t be holding up other college assistance legislation, as seems to be happening in the state Senate.

The argument against expanding financial aid to young illegal immigrants this year can be summed up in a single word: McCleary.

In last year’s McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to fully fund basic education. Lawmakers already face a projected deficit of nearly $1 billion, and some believe it would take yet another $1 billion to begin meeting

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Two-year colleges: Stimulus tool No. 1 for higher employment

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

There are two explanations for last year’s 6 percent drop in community college enrollment.

One is worth a party. According to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, more Washingtonians are finding jobs and drifting away from school.

The other is disturbing. Marty Brown, executive director of the board, says that rising costs are likely scaring off would-be students.

That’s pretty much self-evident, given that tuition has risen by 12 percent each of the last two years. It now costs $4,000 a year to attend a community college – about what it cost to attend the University of Washington 10 years ago.

The Legislature has been busily dismantling Washington’s public colleges and universities since the Great Recession hit. As in past recessions, lawmakers have treated the higher education system as a piggy bank – something to break and raid to spare other state services. They’ve reduced appropriations to colleges by an estimated $1.4 billion since 2009.

Yes, higher education must suffer its share of cutbacks when money gets scarce. But few if any states have cannibalized their colleges the way Washington has; the Legislature has cut direct funding to its universities by as much as half, to its community colleges by roughly a quarter.
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State college-going: Sinking, not treading water

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Here’s another pin to stick in the balloon of complacency about Washington’s education system.

The Seattle Times has unearthed an exceptionally disturbing trend: This state isn’t merely failing to provide enough college opportunity to its children. It is actually slipping backward – providing less than it did 20 years ago.

One important indicator is the percentage of students who enroll full time in either a two- or four-year college immediately after graduating from high school.

In 1992, the Times reported Sunday, 58 percent of Washington high schoolers went straight into higher education, well above the national average of 54 percent. Our rank: 11th in the nation.

As of 2008, though, the national average had risen to 63 percent – but Washington’s rate of immediate college-going had fallen to 51 percent. Our rank: 46th in the nation.

These numbers might seem to contradict Washington’s generally strong education statistics. Our state’s tech industries, especially, abound in people with bachelor’s and graduate degrees.

But there’s no contradiction. As we have often noted, many of Washington’s largest and most profitable companies – Microsoft, for example – often have to look to other states, even other countries, when recruiting well-educated professionals.
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Too many for-profit colleges fail to deliver for students

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

A new Senate education committee report on the nation’s for-profit colleges paints a disturbing picture of billions in taxpayer dollars being spent on student aid, with precious little to show for it.

Tuition at these colleges tends to be pricey, with associate degrees costing at least four times as much as comparable community college programs. Yet many of the credits students earn are not transferable to other institutions and often don’t qualify them for the professional licensing they need – despite what the TV commercials claim.

More than a quarter of federal student aid now goes to for-profit schools – and that doesn’t even include military GI Bill benefits. These schools are aggressively pitching their sales messages to veterans – sometimes even as they are recuperating from war injuries. Only after the vets have spent their benefits do they discover that they have little to show for it.
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