Replying to Doug Call’s fallacious argument that uses University of Washington in Seattle as a metric for Washington State University in Pullman.
Apples and oranges, professor. Apples and oranges.
Doug Call took me to task for arguing that University of Idaho President Scott Green’s decision to grant students the liberty to decide whether to attend live classes during the Covid lockdowns was the cause of UI enrollment flourishing. And that Washington State University’s decision to cancel live classes and give WSU students only the choice of attending remote classes was the cause of WSU’s enrollment crash.
Professor Call says, “I can simply point out that the University of Washington had the same policies as WSU and UW’s enrollment held steady between fall 2021 and fall 2022. By that limited standard, Courtney’s thesis is bogus.”
Welcome to the fallacy of false equivalence (comparing apples to oranges). I have bad news for you, professor: you cannot use UW as a counterexample.
Among National Universities, UW is ranked #55 in the nation (top 12%). UW is academically rigorous and selective in the students it accepts. Half the applicants admitted to UW have an SAT score between 1220 and 1470 or an ACT score of 29 and 34.
WSU is currently ranked #212 in the nation (48%), well behind #176-ranked UI. WSU’s in-state tuition is actually higher than UW’s. Half the applicants admitted to WSU have an SAT score between 1020 and 1240 or an ACT score of 18 and 25. In other words, on average the top students admitted to WSU would be the bottom students admitted to UW.
Many (most?) Washingtonians choose WSU because they didn’t get accepted into their first-choice school, UW. WSU’s admission rate is 86%, similar to Central Washington University’s. With that high admission rate, WSU has lowered itself into the Tier 4/5 category of colleges. WSU has effectively become Washington’s “safety school.” If you can fog a mirror, you can get accepted into WSU. It didn’t used to be that way.
WSU is also well known for being the party school of Washington. WSU’s 4-year graduation rate is 37%. You may not walk away with a degree after six years, but you will have a blast while trying.
There are many reasons why mid- and lower-ranked universities like WSU are having significant enrollment challenges. First, the crashing birth rate caused what is called an “enrollment cliff.” I wrote about this in my 4 Sept 2019 Op-Ed (Higher Ed Needs to go Back to the Basics). The U.S. birthrate peaked in 2010 and has plummeted ever since. With the pool of available college students decreasing, attracting students to bottom-tier universities such as WSU only becomes more and more difficult.
I submit that if the total number of Washington college students were cut in half, UW would still be full and WSU withering. Why would students want to be out of the workforce for six years (recall, only 37% of WSU students graduate in four years), spend over $150,000 to maybe get a degree, and land a post-WSU job with a median salary of $55,300 when they could attend UW in Seattle, graduate in four years for less money, and demand a better salary?
The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Job Opening and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) shows that there are currently 10.3 million job openings. Jobs do not require four-year college degrees, employers do. With ten million job openings and a decreasing workforce, many employers have begun a “degree reset“ for a wide range of jobs, requesting specific skills instead of relying on a college diploma. High schoolers wanting to work no longer need a college degree to get great-paying jobs and excellent careers.
Finally, Congress and the Trump/Biden administrations authorized the disbursement of $14.1 trillion in federal spending, tax cuts, loans, grants, and subsidies in response to the government Covid lockdowns. That money, created ex nihilo, has generated our current stagflation of high inflation and slow economic growth. Who in 2022 can afford to spend $150,000 for an underwater basket weaving degree at a Tier 4/5 school?
UI made itself attractive to college students across the US by extending to them the liberty to attend live classes during Covid. WSU did not. And WSU lost because of it.
WSU has also taken the non-sustainable route of lowering its standards to pay the bills. That decision will prove nonrecoverable if they don’t shift tack.