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December 5, 2013 at 5:02 PM
University of Washington President Michael Young took a swipe at the state’s prepaid college tuition program Thursday during a public interview with an Atlantic Magazine editor.
Answering a question about differential tuition before an audience of about 70 people, Young described how the UW has been unable to charge different amounts for different majors in part because of the state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) plan. He described GET as “a strange program — a Ponzi scheme, essentially,” which elicited a chuckle from the audience.
UW spokesman Norm Arkans said Young has used the phrase to describe GET before, and called it “a handy quip to explain what he perceives as the financial fragility of the GET program.” State Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, also described it as a Ponzi scheme earlier this year.
A Ponzi scheme is defined by the Securities and Exchange Commission as “an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.”
GET works by selling prepaid tuition “units” at a premium on today’s tuition prices, guaranteeing that when it’s time to cash in, 100 of the units will be worth a year of tuition at the most expensive state university.
The program got into financial trouble during the economic downturn, when the double whammy of skyrocketing tuition rates and declining investment returns caused it to be underfunded by as much as $680 million, or about 20 percent. GET administrators have since raised the unit price significantly, even as the stock market has rebounded; the program is on track to be fully funded in about five years.
In the wide-ranging interview, which took place at the Four Seasons Seattle hotel downtown and was conducted by Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, Young discussed the future of the UW campus, its connections to China and how he expects the university to evolve over the next two decades.
Among the highlights:
- On the increasing numbers of international students: There are 3,000 Chinese students studying at the UW now, half of them undergraduate, Young said. The UW recently hired Jeffrey Riedinger as vice-provost for global affairs; among other things, he’s responsible for finding ways to better tap into the global knowledge that international students bring to campus life. Young said his aim was to find ways for international students to become “not just recipients of education, but teachers themselves,” and to create opportunities for more collaborative learning with their American counterparts.
- On admitting more in-state students: Young said it’s become harder for Washington students to get into the UW as freshmen because the in-state applicant pool has become so competitive. The average Washington freshman now has a 3.8 GPA. “We would love to admit more — I take no pleasure in turning kids down,” he said.
- On financing higher education: Young said there “needs to be a national conversation” about higher education funding. Noting that UW’s state funding has been cut by 52 percent over the last four years, he said universities need to think more creatively about different streams of revenue, different ways to deliver financial aid and new ways to work with private industry.
- On student debt: Young noted that slightly fewer than half of all UW undergraduate students graduate with debt, and the average debt is about $20,000. “I wish it was zero — it’s still a good value proposition,” he said. The national average is $29,400, and more than 70 percent of students nationally have at least some debt.
- On financial aid: Young made a pitch for fully funding financial aid in Washington; about 32,000 students, or roughly one-third of those who are qualified, receive no financial aid from the state. He also said the state needs to establish “a predictable stream of revenue in higher education.”
A taped version of the interview is expected to be posted on the Atlantic website at a later date.
December 4, 2013 at 1:04 PM
Graduates from Washington’s public and private four-year colleges have less debt than their counterparts nationwide, according to a new report on student debt in America.
But in Washington, the average debt load has gone up nearly 22 percent in five years.
When compared to other states, Washington ranks 36th for college debt levels among students who attend four-year schools, according to the report by The Project on Student Debt. The state where students have the highest debt load is Delaware, where the average debt is $33,649; the lowest is New Mexico, where the average debt is $17,994.
The average debt for students who graduated from a Washington public- or private nonprofit four-year school in 2013 is $23,293. Five years ago, students who graduated in 2008 carried a debt load of $19,112, according to CollegeInsight, a website that displays debt figures over a range of years.
Nationally, college graduates who borrowed to earn their bachelor’s degree had an average student-loan debt of $29,000, according to the Project on Student Debt, part of The Institute for College Access and Success. About 71 percent of college seniors who graduated last year had student-loan debt.
The report also warns that one-fifth of the debt held nationally is in the form of private loans, “which are typically more costly and provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options than safer federal loans.”
“From 2008 to 2012, average debt (federal and private loans combined) increased an average of six percent each year,” the student-debt project reported.
The report also breaks down the numbers by college. On average, 2012 undergraduates from the University of Washington’s Seattle campus owed about $20,800, and 49 percent of graduates had debt. That’s up from $16,800 in 2008 – not surprising, since tuition has nearly doubled in that time period. About 50 percent of graduates had debt in 2008.
In 2012, the average Washington State University undergraduate owed $23,443, and 57 percent of graduates had debt. The WSU debt load was the highest among Washington’s public four-year schools. Numbers for earlier years were not available.
Students who graduated from Washington’s private schools owed significantly more. The four-year private, nonprofit school with the highest average debt load was Saint Martin’s University, in Olympia. Graduates there had a debt load of $34,235, and 79 percent of graduates had some debt.
Northwest University, a small private school in Kirkland, also had a high debt load. The average debt of graduates was $31,691, and 83 percent of graduates had some debt.
Third on the list was Pacific Lutheran University, where the average debt of graduates was $31,320, and 73 percent of graduates had some debt.
November 29, 2013 at 1:31 PM
A few hours before the Apple Cup kickoff Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee met with the regents of the University of Washington and Washington State University and pledged support for more money for higher education.
Inslee also urged the schools to invite legislators to campus, show them the universities’ top accomplishments and make the pitch for higher-education funding as part of the tours.
“We have to find a way to increase revenues or you’re going to be back on the tuition-increase treadmill all over again,” said Inslee, who met with the regents in a ground-floor boardroom inside Husky Stadium, to the left of the main entrance gate. The meeting was drowned out on one occasion by the sound of the Cougar marching band warming up outside the room.
After several years of raising tuition by double-digits, the state’s two- and four-year colleges and universities received enough of a funding boost from the Legislature this year to keep tuition flat for the next two academic years.
After the meeting, Inslee said he thinks all the money needed to increase K-12 and higher-education funding can come from closing tax loopholes. He said he is not talking about another form of tax increase, although some legislators have argued that closing loopholes amounts to the same thing.
“We are looking for revenue sources that are possible, politically,” Inslee said, adding, “We have a slew of other tax exemptions that have accrued barnacles over the decades” and no longer make sense economically for the state.
Inslee joked that legislative tours of campus could become a kind of competition, and that each school should try to outdo the other in getting more lawmakers on campus. “One thing I’ve learned is the single most powerful thing to get people to advocate your position is to get them to understand your position,” Inslee said — and that understanding often begins with a visit and a tour.
UW and WSU regents meet together once each year, usually just before the Apple Cup, and trade good-natured ribbing about which school is most likely to come out on top. Inslee, a UW graduate, would as governor present the Apple Cup to the game’s winning team, but he said he was thinking about handing that honor over to his wife, Trudi, if the Cougars prevailed. Trudi Inslee attended WSU.
November 22, 2013 at 4:51 PM
UPDATE: Green River Community College spokeswoman Vickie Sheehan said the college restored a 3 percent wage cut to classified staff workers earlier this year, so restoring that cut is no longer an issue. Sheehan said she was given incorrect information on Friday.
More than 150 Green River Community College faculty members presented a petition to the college’s board of trustees Thursday asking that an increase in state funding be put toward a boost in faculty salaries, particularly for adjunct faculty.
Faculty members have not gotten a cost-of-living raise since 2008. John Avery, who is chair of the transitional studies and wellness division, said six other community colleges already have voted to give faculty members raises.
At issue is a 3 percent cut in funding that the state Legislature restored to community colleges earlier this year. Green River spokeswoman Vickie Sheehan said that cut came from a salary reduction two years ago.
Sheehan said the board wants any pay increases to be negotiated as part of the union bargaining process, and not outside of that process. “We are offering to begin that process as soon as possible,” she said.
“I do know that the bargaining process is a sacred process, and we need to stick to it,” she said.
The contract for faculty members expires in June of next year, Avery said, and if a raise were approved, it wouldn’t begin appearing in paychecks until September 2014.
Green River’s faculty and administration clashed earlier this year, when 92 percent of faculty members voted they had “no confidence” in college President Eileen Ely after three years of what they say have been unilateral changes that aim to cut them out of academic decision making.
Avery said faculty members want adjunct salaries to be a priority. Adjuncts do not earn the same salaries and benefits as full-time employees, and often work on part-time contracts.
Sheehan said all community-college employees — not just faculty members — have not received cost-of-living raises for a number of years. However, she said, staff members have gotten step increases based on their years of service, and some received raises when they were promoted to new positions.
November 22, 2013 at 3:25 PM
Washington State University’s governing board has approved a $10 million expenditure to design a new classroom and office building and acquire property for future development of WSU-taught programs on the Everett Community College campus.
The money was appropriated by the Legislature. The building of 95,000 square feet will support programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math. The actual construction will require additional funds, but WSU won’t know how much until after the building is designed.
Everett officials and legislators asked the Legislature for the money; it wasn’t on WSU’s legislative operating or capital agenda, said WSU spokeswoman Kathy Barnard.
WSU has a growing presence on the Everett campus. Legislation signed in 2011 by Gov. Chris Gregoire gave WSU management and leadership over the University Center of North Puget Sound beginning in 2014. The center is located on the Everett campus and is currently managed by the community college. It offers classes from a consortium of eight schools.
The new building will be located on community-college property currently used as a parking lot. WSU will likely ask the Legislature in 2015 for money to build it.
November 19, 2013 at 11:04 AM
Ben Taskar, a national expert in machine learning who joined the faculty of the University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Department last year, died Sunday night of an apparent heart attack. He was 36.
Taskar was one of several computer-science superstars hired by the UW last summer. He received his bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. from Stanford University, and worked for six years as a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania before joining the UW staff. He taught his first class at the UW in spring of this year.
In a post on the Computer Science and Engineering Department’s website, colleagues described Taskar as one of his generation’s leading computer scientists.
“He made many significant research contributions in areas spanning machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision,” colleagues wrote. “We are devastated by his loss. Even in a short time at UW, Ben’s brilliance, and his positive and gentle nature, made him admired and adored by everyone who knew him.”
Taskar’s expertise was in computational linguistics, or speech recognition, the technology used in cellphones and computers that allows people to talk to their devices and be understood. And he also worked with computer vision — teaching a computer to recognize an image, such as a face.
In an interview last year, Taskar said he joined the UW faculty in part because of its reputation for collaboration across different departments and disciplines.
Taskar is survived by his wife, Anat Caspi, and daughter Aviv Taskar.
November 1, 2013 at 5:49 PM
Five Democratic state legislators and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn are calling on the University of Washington to settle a long-running contract dispute with the university’s International English Language faculty.
The 70 faculty members, who are represented by the American Federation of Teachers, teach English language skills to international and non-native English speakers who are enrolled in a variety of UW programs, including academic and professional certificate programs. It serves about 3,500 students.
The contract negotiations have stalled, and in their letters, lawmakers are pressuring the university to go to mediation.
Rozanna Carosella, a-full-time extension lecturer with the program, said instructors have not received a raise in six years, and the contract has been under negotiation for nearly two years. About 70 percent of the teachers — who have, at a minimum, a master’s degree — make about $3,200 a month for 11.5 months of work, which is about half the amount they would make if they taught English language learners in public school, Carosella said. The contract would increase those salaries to $3,600 per month; instructors already making that amount would get a 2 percent raise.
She said one of the group’s biggest concerns is a proposal by the university to rank instructors using a priority hiring list that would give only those rated in the top 30 percent an annual contract. The others would get either a nine-month contract or a quarter-to-quarter contract.
The language faculty would also like to create a career ladder, for those who have worked in the program for many years and have topped out of the salary scale.
University spokesman Norm Arkans said the university is bargaining in good faith, but declined to go into any details.
In their letter, the five Seattle-area legislators wrote that “a system which offers employment to 66 percent of the teachers for only the next quarter or part of a year based on quarterly student evaluations, without professional teaching evaluation and development, does not sound as if it would promote either professional development or serve students.”
It was signed by two members of the House Higher Education Committee — chair Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, and Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle — and three other House members: Bob Hasegawa, Maralyn Chase and Gael Tarleton.
October 31, 2013 at 3:58 PM
Washington State University canceled classes Thursday afternoon and made morning classes optional in advance of a 7:30 p.m. football game against Arizona State University.
WSU President Elson Floyd announced the decision to cancel classes in May, calling the game “a rare opportunity” to showcase the Pullman campus. The game is being televised nationally by ESPN.
“It is also the first time since 2005 that WSU has played a Thursday home football game, so it presents some special challenges,” Floyd wrote in his campus-wide memo in May.
WSU’s Martin Stadium is in the middle of the Pullman campus, and has no designated parking of its own, said Kathy Barnard, executive director of university communications. “There are thousands of students, thousands of faculty and staff, and thousands of fans trying to share finite space,” she said by email. If classes weren’t canceled, all of those audiences would be vying for those parking spaces, she said.
Barnard said the decision was made after consultation with senior leadership, the deans, faculty leadership and the faculty at large.
October 30, 2013 at 5:11 PM
The Seattle Community College District has tweaked the language of a proposed rule to regulate free speech on campus after the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington raised questions about the rule’s constitutionality last week.
The new language encourages off-campus groups to register with the college before engaging in free-speech activity on the campus. Previously, the rule required off-campus groups to register.
Last week, in a letter to the college, the ACLU voiced concerns that requiring registration before engaging in free speech was unconstitutional. ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said the group is reviewing the change.
In a letter to the college community, Chancellor Jill Wakefield said the ACLU voiced its concerns in a letter that arrived the afternoon before a public hearing, “when there was no time to incorporate and discuss any changes,” she said.
Wakefield said the new rules were drafted by a task force during a series of meetings that she praised as being collaborative. The rules, she wrote, make it clear that the district — North, South and Seattle Central community colleges — is “a limited public forum for First Amendment activities and are meant to provide a reasonable time, place, and manner for people to engage in First Amendment activities at the District. They also provide clarity around the use of the campus for First Amendment activities by both college and non-college groups.”
College officials decided they needed free speech rules after the Occupy Seattle movement made Seattle Central Community College its home base for several months in the fall of 2011. The new rule prohibits overnight camping.
The proposal will go to the school’s Board of Trustees Dec. 5 for a second reading and vote.
October 23, 2013 at 5:35 PM
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) says portions of a proposed new rule to regulate free speech on Seattle Community College District campuses is unconstitutional.
The Seattle college district – composed of North Seattle, South Seattle and Seattle Central community colleges – has been working on a new free speech regulation in the wake of the Occupy Seattle protests in fall 2011.
The trustees scrapped an earlier rule proposal after the ACLU said it was too broad, and student leaders and faculty members sharply criticized it.
Since that time, a task force has been meeting to draft a new rule, and held a hearing Tuesday on the proposal.
Don Bissonette, a faculty member who teaches English language learners and is a member of the task force that rewrote the regulation, said the committee didn’t share the ACLU’s concerns about the constitutionality of the rule. He said the committee’s focus was to write a regulation that prevented people from camping on campus, and the new regulation does that.
In an Oct. 21 letter to the college district’s Board of Trustees, ACLU attorney La Rond Baker took issue with the most recent proposal because it requires people and groups not affiliated with the college to sign in and provide a name before exercising free speech.
The rule “triggers constitutional concerns because it requires registration prior to engaging in the most basic and treasured form of protected political speech (i.e. flyering, handbilling, pamphleteering, proselytizing, etc.),” the letter says. That requirement would violate both the First Amendment and Washington’s constitution, according to the ACLU.
The proposal also runs afoul of free-speech protections because it requires groups not affiliated with the college to register only when a college administrator requests that they do so, the ACLU letter says. According to the ACLU, the rule is “an unfettered grant of discretion that allows the college to arbitrarily determine which groups will be subjected to prior restraint.”
That increases the chance that a group with an unpopular message will be required to register, a practice that’s forbidden by the First Amendment, the ACLU says.
Bissonnette said the committee “didn’t that that was really too egregious” to ask people to sign in before protesting. “I’m a member of the ACLU, and personally I don’t have a problem, and the committee didn’t have a big problem” with that part of the rule, he said.
College spokeswoman Patricia Paquette said that the ACLU’s comments would be considered and addressed in the next few weeks. The proposal will go to the school’s Board of Trustees Dec. 5 for a second reading and vote.
About The Today File
The Today File is a general news blog featuring real-time coverage of Seattle and the Northwest. It is reported by the news staff of The Seattle Times and edited by Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza.
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