Stanford University has announced, in keeping up with the Harvards, that parents earning less than $100,000 will no longer pay tuition. Families earning below $60,000 don't have to pay for room and board. (Total for a year at Stanford, including meals and lodging, is now $47,200.) Pretty sweet deal for the next generation of the elite. The story, lovingly treated by the major national papers, recalls to me a conversation I had with the distinguished American historian Richard White, who was at the time just announcing his departing from U.W. to go teach at Stanford. One reason, he told me, was the greater student diversity, and lower median family income, at Stanford. The paradox is this: "Private" institutions like the very best universities are now more "public" than the publics, in the sense that they are cheaper for those of modest means (if you can get in), and more progressive in the way they transfer wealth downward. Looked at another way, of course, the story reflects the extraordinary upward flow of wealth. Stanford's endowment is now $17.1 billion, and last year it led all universities in fundraising: $832.4 million. (Harvard has the top endowment, an astounding $35 billion, up there in the Gates league.) The Ivies and a few other elite schools are now accelerating away from the publics, paying their professors much more, and creating the research environments that attract the top talent and top students. Can the University of Washington keep up? It has partially done so by being the top public university in terms of research grants, which skews the mission toward grant-grabbing professors, and has kept a place in the top 20 in terms of contributions. It also saves money by letting its humanities programs decline, shifting money to the sciences. And it's just winding up an ambitious, $2.5 billion, seven-year campaign to build the endowment, endowed professorships, and more. It may also have dodged a bullet, known as the UW/North campus, which could seriously divert money from the UW/Montlake megaversity. Some reformers have even thought that the UW needs to "privatize" more, gaining more autonomy from the Legislature in setting tuition and deciding on areas of specialization, in exchange for capping the state's level of support. Ironically, such privatization would enable a leading public research university to offer free admission to many. Ain't gonna happen!