Diverse enrollments conflict with claims about law targeted by I-1000

Apr 27, 2019

Republicans don’t control the Senate’s agenda, so what happens with Initiative 1000 is not our call. I do want to be prepared if it comes up for a vote before the session ends, so we’ve had people from both sides of the issue visit our caucus to explain their positions and answer questions.

The April 25 guest column in The Seattle Times about I-1000 made an argument I hadn’t heard. But having represented WSU’s Pullman campus as a legislator since 1993, I thought one of the claims by the author about WSU’s students of color sounded a bit off-target.

The contention is that the I-200 law passed in 1998 “dramatically reduced the number of African Americans and people of color from being able to enroll at the University of Washington and Washington State University.”

Let’s check the numbers. In 1998 there were 384 African American undergraduates at WSU. Last year that number was 827, equal to a 115% increase. At UW the number of African American undergraduates went from 384 in the year when I-200 passed to 1,380 a year ago. That’s a 54.5% increase.

Now for enrollments by other students of color. The number of Asian American undergrads at WSU and UW were 73% and 63% higher in 2018 than in 1998. The numbers for Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders were up just a tick at WSU but 76% higher at UW. The change for Hispanic/Latino undergrads was an eye-opener: a 135% increase at UW, and a whopping 572% increase at WSU.

With all due respect to the author of the column promoting I-1000, it doesn’t appear that the I-200 law has kept students of color out of UW or WSU. In fact, the proportion of Caucasian students has fallen at the two institutions.

Then there’s the claim that “I-200 made it much tougher for students of color to attend college in the state they grew up in.” Yet statistics for the four regional universities – WWU, EWU, CWU and Evergreen – mirror the diversity seen at WSU and UW.

Also, I believe a large proportion of the 370,000 students at our community and technical colleges (CTCs) are homegrown. People of color account for 45% of the enrollment at the CTCs, which is disproportionate to their 31.5% share of Washington’s population. Does that suggest students of color are having a tough time getting into Washington colleges?

We’ll know soon enough what the Senate majority intends to do with I-1000. Because the I-200 law was created with a public vote, I’d argue that the public, not the Legislature, should vote on any effort to overturn it. In the meantime, it looks like student enrollments at Washington’s public colleges and universities have become more diverse – not less – since in the 20 years since I-200 became law.

(Click here for the diversity statistics)