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University of Washington enrolls its first class of iStudents

This year's class of freshmen is the largest in the UW's history - 6,200 - in order to accept more in-state students. The UW president still sees an educational value in enrolling a significant number of out-of-state and international students. (Linda Thomas photo)

Two students chat in their dorm room at the University of Washington. One is from South Korea, the other is from Seattle and has never been able to check any box other than “Caucasian” on a form asking about ethnicity.

They’re both international students, or as UW President Michael Young labels them, “iStudents.”

“Every student on campus this fall is an international student,” Young says. “We live in a world where borders and boundaries matter only to politicians. Goods, ideas, people, germs, just cross borders seamlessly and we are preparing kids for that.”

Technically about 12 percent of the student population is from another country. About 5,000 of the UW’s 46,000 students are international students, but Young wants to change the way the students identify themselves.

“American students are themselves teachers about America and our students from abroad are teachers about their countries, but every one of them is being launched out into a truly global world so they better be iStudents from the moment they walk on campus,” he says.

Young sees that in business in Washington where a significant portion of the workforces of companies we consider to be local – Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing – are abroad and many of their products are researched and developed abroad.

“That’s really the world we launch our kids into,” he says.

A group of Seattle business and civic leaders would like to see more in-state kids launched into the world through the UW.

Bill Gates Sr., a former UW regent, presented a 50 page report recently that makes a case for the state putting more money into higher education, and in return the university will accept more Washington students.

This year’s freshman class is the largest in UW history with 6,200 students. About two-thirds of those students are in-state and one-third out-of-state, Young says.

“We gradually wanted to see if we could add some more in-state kids. The demand is so high. Our applicant pool increased by well over 15 percent this year,” says Young. “We can’t simply open our doors to everybody, but we thought if we can move it up a little bit and still maintain that quality we’d like to do that.”

UW branch campuses in Tacoma and Bothell might be able to accommodate more students, but Young says the main Seattle campus is maxed out and will have an even larger class of freshmen next year.

While the increased revenue from out-of-state students helps the UW keep tuition low, he says the principal reason the university wants students from other parts of the country and world has nothing to do with money.

“From our perspective, it’s educationally valuable to have kids who come from different backgrounds. It immeasurably enhances everybody’s education,” he says. “If a kid from Spokane is sitting next to a kid from Shanghai, both of them are going to have a better educational experience.”


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