The University of Washington is supposed to have some of the brightest minds in this country on its faculty, administration and board of directors. So why is it that when money gets tight the answer always seems to be "generate more revenue" and not much is said about exploring ways to reduce spending?
Tuition has skyrocketed at far greater rates than inflation in the last decade. Now, students in the state with top test scores, straight-A averages and acceptance at prestigious institutions are getting the cold shoulder from UW.
Why? Because there is nearly three times the amount of tuition and fees to be made by filling more slots with out-of-state and international students. These "outsiders" will constitute 30 percent of the incoming freshmen.
While it is understandable UW would want to milk that cash cow - the University of Oregon increased its out-of-state students to 47 percent of the 2010 freshman class - it is souring a lot of state taxpayers' stomachs who wanted their children to attend UW.
But, UW officials say in their defense, if they didn't take more out-of-state students they would have had to reduce the number of in-state students even more.
"People think they're taking the place of resident students; they are not," said Philip Ballinger, UW's admission director who was put in the position of trying to sugarcoat this decision.
Yes, bringing in more out-of-state students will generate more revenue. But is this the best these brilliant minds can conceive? Interestingly, Washington State University found places for more than 400 additional in-state students for fall 2011 and a way to fund them.
State, county and city governments and private businesses have had to find ways to adjust to declining revenue by finding cost savings, by revamping workloads, by reducing salaries, by jettisoning programs and products.
There is no question higher education can get the short end of the stick because it is one of the few budget areas where funding isn't required by the constitution or that isn't tied to public safety.
That being the case, higher education officials are going to have to get more creative in how they save money and in how they may be able to generate revenue.
More of Washington's students are leaving the state than are coming here. According to a story in The Seattle Times, this net out-migration, which is the fifth-highest nationally, could come back to bite the state's long-term economy. Many of these former residents will never return, adding their talents and taxes to other states.
You can't take tuition increases and out-of-state students out of the equation. But surely with all that brain power the University of Washington could find a few more variables to bring into play.