It doesn't take college-level math to figure that a growing state also needs to continually expand its college system. So why not try what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did? Throw out a little carrot. See who would compete to build a new college here.
Recently I wrote that instead of cutting back higher education, what we really need to do is build a brand-new university. I was of course called crazy.
“Typical clueless liberal,” read a typically frank email. “The state is bankrupt and you are all about building a new school.”
OK, both liberal and clueless I may be. But what I suggested is hardly typical. In this state it’s almost unheard of, from anyone, no matter how socialist or starry-eyed. What I said is crazy.
At least around here. But did you hear what just happened in New York City?
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A few years ago, the mayor of New York convened a group to look at ways the city could dig out of the rubble of the Wall Street crash. Hundreds of CEOs, venture capitalists and community leaders were asked to come up with a “game changing” idea for their local economy.
The hands-down winner: Build a new university.
That’s crazy, said some. Both the city and state of New York have crippling budget deficits. It’s no time for throwing money at a fancy new college.
The mayor — who is a billionaire Republican, not a clueless liberal — ignored them. The day after he learned he faced $15 billion in deficits in the next three years, Mike Bloomberg announced a contest was on to build a new applied-sciences graduate school.
All he offered was to donate 11 acres of city land and, over time, make $100 million in infrastructure improvements. “Relatively modest,” was how Crain’s, a New York business newspaper, described this public subsidy. Yet “the contest created worldwide buzz.”
In the end, 27 universities from six states and eight countries submitted bids. The winner — Cornell University and a tech institute from Israel — agreed to drop $2 billion on a new campus that will house 280 faculty members and 2,500 students in advanced programs in computers, engineering and other sciences.
All of which is exactly what we need here in Seattle.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the University of Washington now turns away four out of five of its own students who want to go into computer science because it doesn’t have room.
Greg Miller wrote to say that as appalling as that is, he can top it. He’s the chairman of the UW’s Civil Engineering Department. Last year, he says, 680 UW freshmen asked to study civil engineering. Only 110 were let in — a reject rate of 84 percent.
“The number of doors that are getting closed for people who would be great engineers if given the chance is staggering,” Miller wrote.
Some people told me they blame the UW. It’s bloated, they say. At minimum it should reallocate money from fields that aren’t in such hot demand (Scandinavian studies, for instance).
But these ideas, even if they could save some money, completely misjudge the depth of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves in this state.
It doesn’t take college-level math to figure that a growing state also needs to continually expand its college system. Trimming and tucking isn’t going to do it. By 2030 the forecast is that we’ll need the equivalent of another UW-sized institution even if we expand the current higher-ed system to the max (which so far we are not doing).
So why not try what Bloomberg did? Throw out a little carrot. See who would compete to build a new college here.
Seattle has been fussing for years over what to do with the developed, old Navy base portion of Magnuson Park. How about a West Coast MIT there? Stanford finished second to Cornell in the New York bidding. So it sounds like they might be available.
I don’t know if this would cause a frenzy as it did in New York. On that I really am clueless.
But what’s tantalizing is this wouldn’t take tons of new taxes. The opportunity in Seattle, with aerospace and high tech, is arguably greater than it is in New York. I bet all this needs is what we lack the most: the leadership to seize it.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.