WSU is advancing Washington industries …
WSU teams with aviation to develop sustainable aviation biofuels …
WSU partners to develop bioproducts that reduce dependence on petroleum imports …
WSU works with state commodity commissions to conduct needed agricultural research …
WSU developed the technology used for wood-plastic composites used for buildings …
WSU researchers work to improve dairy productivity and reduce disease …
WSU research has made Washington one of the world’s most productive wheat-growing regions …

In the News

Public Colleges Boost Economic Growth

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The “Wall Street Journal” has an opinion piece today that addresses the importance of public colleges and universities, particularly the land grant institutions such as Washington State University. Opining that the trend has been for states to treat higher education like an expendable luxury, the authors posit that this formula is a recipe for decline.

Robert M. Gates and David L. Boren – Guest editorial, Wall Street Journal

The U.S. makes up less than a tenth of the world’s population, but we have more than three-fourths of the world’s greatest colleges and universities. Students from all over the world flock to America to obtain college degrees, and as we compete with other nations, America’s dominance in this area is a tremendous asset. But affordable, public higher education is quickly disappearing—with grave consequences for the nation’s future.

A brief look back at history illustrates that as the price of higher education declined, the U.S. economy grew. In 1800, when the population of the U.S. was five million, there were only about 1,000 Americans enrolled in colleges. Nearly all of them were enrolled in small, expensive private institutions.

Fast forward to the passage in 1862 of the Morrill Act, which was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. That law established land grant colleges and universities all across America, making an affordable college education broadly available to the average citizen. Passed during the Civil War, it was an act of faith in our future.

Sixty-nine colleges were funded by these land grants. Today, America’s land-grant colleges enroll more than 4.6 million students.

In 1944, in the midst of another war, the first G.I. Bill was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, enabling more than 10 million veterans who had served in World War II to go to college for free.


America’s economic development in the 20th century was due in no small measure to these two visionary acts. It is not a coincidence that our greatest period of economic growth came in the 20 years following the end of World War II. Real incomes of ordinary Americans almost doubled, while the percentage of the population going on to college increased fourfold.

With the Morrill Act and the G.I. Bill, Americans agreed that college-educated citizens benefit the entire nation—not just those who receive diplomas. Yet now, with virtually no public debate, we are reversing course. The college education considered since 1862 to be a social good is now regarded as a private product benefiting only the individual student.

Families rightfully complain about rising college tuition and costs, and universities can do more to control expenditures. But the primary reason for increased cost is plummeting state financial support.

State budget decisions are returning America’s system of public higher education into a pre-1862 luxury available only to the well-off or those willing to assume life-changing debt.

Many of the nation’s most prominent public universities—including the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Virginia—now receive less than 15% of their operating budgets from the state. The University of Oklahoma receives only 17% of its budget from the state, compared to the 38% it received in 1980.

The University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, where David Boren is president, receives less than 7% of its budget from the state, even though it educates more than 50% of the states’ doctors. The College of William and Mary, where Robert Gates is chancellor, receives 12%-13% of its operating budget from the state, compared to 42.8% in 1980. Across the country, per student support for public universities is plummeting. Between 2007 and 2012, per student funding declined by more than 20% in 30 states. Among those, 13 states reduced per student funding by more than 30%.

Programs for the elderly now consume more than half of all federal spending and are politically untouchable. But there is no similar resistance to cutting support for higher education. To be blunt, we are sacrificing our young people’s futures—and our future economic growth—by focusing on protecting our generation’s benefits. That is a formula for national decline.

Where are the visionaries of today? The U.S. needs leaders like Lincoln and Roosevelt who understand that higher education is the single most important driver of prosperity at home and American influence abroad.

Mr. Gates is former secretary of defense and current chancellor of the College of William and Mary. Mr. Boren is former chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Intelligence and current president of the University of Oklahoma.


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