12 April 2019
Graduate Education at the University of Washington:
Privatized, expensive, inequitable
General context of UW graduate education
· Total graduate enrollment in Autumn 2018 was 14,378 (we admitted nearly 5000 new graduate students in 2018);
· Graduate degrees granted Summer 2017 through Spring 2018: 4568 Masters (85%), 814 doctoral;
· 47% of grad students were residents (was 58% in 2007, been in steady decline), 33% non-resident US, and proportionally, applications from WA residents accounted for 22% of submitted applications in 2007 but only 14% in 2016;
· Our graduate student body comprises 15% under-represented minority students (up from 9% in 2007), although total enrollment of African American grad students in 2016 was only 387;
· 21% of grad students are international -- UW receives applications from international students all over the world, the most from China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Iran;
Graduate school at UW is being privatized
The UW has had Educational Outreach unit since 1912, which has traditionally run a summer camp program and offered classes of interest to community members, including such things as certificates in technical writing. When the economy tanked at the end of 2008, and the state legislature subsequently cut its contribution to the UW’s budget by about 50%, many master’s degree programs were forced to become “self-supporting.” PCE, now called the Continuum College, was the vehicle for this transformation.
UW hasn’t reported data on privatization of graduate education since 2016. In that year, UW reported nearly 4500, or half of its master’s degree students were in privatized, self-sustaining or fee-based programs (these terms are used interchangeably). Specifically, 4489 of 8763 masters’ degree students (51%) were in such programs. The largest fee-based programs are in Business, the Information School, Public Health, Civil Engineering, and Social Work and collectively account for 42% of all current fee-based master’s enrollment.
When a program becomes “fee based,” it must submit an annual budget that projects revenues from student fees that exceed the entire cost of the program, including faculty, staff, room rentals, equipment, and so on. Overhead rates are charged by every unit, including UW generally (17% of gross revenues), School overhead (generally 12% of gross), PCE (10%), and department (varies). Many of these programs have abandoned the concept of “in state tuition,” since the state contributes nothing. One Master of Public Health degree charges $10,000 per quarter for six quarters; a doctorate in nursing practice charges $850/credit x 93 required credits ($79,000 for the degree’s fees alone).
The existence of both fee-based and traditional “state-based” master’s degrees at UW creates a patchwork of confusion for students trying to navigate to a degree. This multiple payor system can be compared to our health system, with a very confusing set of offerings, requirements, eligibility, and costs per credit. Sometimes students in fee-based programs are also attempting to earn a concurrent state-based degree (MPH and MSW, for example); this generates many hours of spreadsheet compilation, tuition calculations, meetings, miscalculated tuition bills and confusion. The UW hasn’t examined this landscape in a systematic way, from the viewpoint of students and faculty, since so many degrees were privatized in 2011.
One solution is to include all master’s degrees in the same system, and use any available state subsidies to support they system broadly. Decisions could even be made to more heavily support those programs where graduates will be serving a public good but won’t be earning large salaries.
No one is taking the lead on this problem, though, and the Continuum College is eager to defend its turf and reason for being.