Jared | University of Washington, and its sports, should be privatized

So the University of Washington is favoring higher-paying out-of-state students over locals. But shouldn’t UW be for local talent?

So the University of Washington is favoring higher-paying out-of-state students over locals. But shouldn’t UW be for local talent?

Out-of-staters pay $25,000 per year versus locals who only pay $9,000 (complemented by the state’s $7,000, totaling $16,000 per year). Like any business, it makes sense to sell to those who are willing to pay more. In this way, UW is already profit seeking and semi-privatized. I say let’s privatize it even further.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of college, adult and continuing education of all types; that is not the issue here. The issue is funding, and more basically, economic structure of our state’s colleges.

But let’s back up a bit, to basics. Tell me where in the Washington State Constitution (1889) does it mention funding college? Granted, UW was in existence (1861) when the Constitution was approved, but still, we must ask the basic question: is it even a proper state function to subsidize higher education beyond land grants?

Article IX, Section 1, the Education part of our Constitution, doesn’t mention the words “higher,” “college,” or “university.” It only mentions “education of children” and “common schools.” Colleges are not “common schools,” or what we call today “K–12.”

So does this mean UW, Washington State University, Bellevue, Western, Eastern, Central and Washington’s 33 other community colleges should not get tax funding? Yes. To change this would require an amendment to the state’s Constitution.

The “paramount” duty of the state is K–12 education, per Article IX, Section 1, but not college. College is not the state’s duty, and is not mentioned in Article IX.  There is no constitutional grant of power to have government universities. That’s the cold, hard, constitutional truth. Colleges are obliquely referred to in the state Constitution in a couple of places, but not the tax funding of them.

“University” is mentioned in Article XVI, Section 2, referring to “the sale of . . .  university land.” And there is reference to “any other state education fund” in art. But this shouldn’t be taken as a basis for the tax funding of higher education. Land grants, maybe, but not taxes.

Big time college sports should similarly be privatized and professionalized like Ralph Nader has suggested, and former UW President, William Gerberding suggested in 1989.

Professionalizing college football and basketball would mean outright paying the athletes, rather than exploiting them now for the university’s gain, and subsidizing the NFL and NBA by training the organization’s athletes for free. Colleges also subsidize scientific and academic research by using undergraduates.

The post World War II period model of socialized-college-for-all is outdated. Our state is not doing a stellar job with K-12, much less college.

Privatizing could start at UW with the Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) model of part public, part private. Start with UW’s business and engineering colleges splitting off.  Sell off, sign up corporate sponsors and seek for-profit investors. Or merge with or be bought out by currently existing private schools like Seattle University, Seattle Pacific, UPS and PLU (Tacoma), Gonzaga and Whitworth (Spokane), Northwest College (Kirkland), St. Martin’s (Lacey), Whitman (Walla Walla), or Evergreen (Olympia).

And don’t forget for-profit and online schools like the University of Phoenix (Tukwila).

Then UW could spin off the social work and pharmacy schools and the law and medical schools after that. And so on, until 100 percent privatization is reached and UW, or the remainder thereof, would be funded independently of taxation. With true competition and open markets in education, tuition would likely come down in the future, meaning more access to higher education.

Our state’s founding fathers in 1889 did not feel state-tax funding of higher education was right. So until we amend our state’s constitution, that’s the way it should be. K–12, common school education tax funding is a proper function of the state, but tax funding of adult and higher education is not.

Jeff E. Jared is an attorney and political writer in Kirkland who writes from a libertarian and law-and-economics perspective.


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