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Briefings

Fewer Freshmen Coming to UW as Access Pressures Mount

As the University of Washington prepares to open its doors for fall quarter 2004, the effects of the "baby boom echo" and limited state funds are ricocheting across the state.

The UW offered admission to 563 fewer high school graduates than it did last year, as it plans to make its freshman class smaller by almost 200 students. The UW has to shrink its student population to match state funding levels.

Another sign of enrollment pressure is what happened to the freshman waiting list-not one person on the list this year was offered admission to the UW.

Associate Vice President for Admissions W.W. "Tim" Washburn says more than 5,000 students paid a $250 deposit for a freshman class he hopes will number around 4,800. While historically some who pay a deposit choose to go elsewhere, "the acceptances we got were such that we could not use names on the waiting list," he says.

Other four-year state institutions are also feeling the pressure. Central Washington University closed admissions for new freshmen in June, the first time it closed this early since 1987. Washburn called these closures "unprecedented," adding that when Central Washington has to turn away qualified students this early, "the state has a problem."

The challenge facing Washington and many other states is the demographic bulge cause by the baby boom generation having children. The U.S. will have steadily rising numbers of high school graduates, peaking in 2009 with more than 3.2 million, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. The number of Washington state high school graduates will rise 40 percent between 1996 and 2009, when about 66,790 will graduate.

At the same time, public funding has not kept pace. In three of the last four legislative sessions, lawmakers cut state funding to the UW. The UW and WSU currently are overenrolled-educating more students the state has actually paid for-but the UW hopes to reduce the student count to its funded level by the end of the 2004-05 academic year.

Students coming to the UW are the best and the brightest in the state. While Washburn won't have firm numbers until the start of fall quarter, he expects the Class of 2009 to come close to last year's average high school GPA of 3.67 and average SAT of 1180.

Washburn added that the UW will continue to reserve 30 percent of all student openings for transfer students from state community colleges.

During 2004-05, he expects that 1,130 community college students will transfer to the UW's Seattle campus. "There are many more who want to come who we can't accommodate," he adds. As an alternative, he recommends UW Bothell and UW Tacoma, which both offer upper division and graduate degree programs.

The UW is working hard to get students through the University quickly, the admissions officer says. The Seattle campus graduated 10,685 students in 2003-04 and its six-year graduation rate is about 70 percent-the highest rate for any public institution in the state.

Still, he says the worst part of his job is explaining to qualified students and their parents that there is no room at the UW. "I tell them that this is what we are funded for, this is the number of places we have, and no more," he says. "It's been a bad year."


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