That would give UW Bothell more space to grow and allow it to add thousands more students. The branch campus already hopes to double its enrollment over the next decade.
Cascadia would then merge with Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland, a plan that “could potentially open up the Bothell campus to grow baccalaureate production,” said Kenyon Chan, the UW Bothell chancellor, who has discussed the possibility with several state lawmakers in recent weeks.
“This is one idea of many being floated,” he said.
William Christopher, president of 3,000-student Cascadia Community College, called the merger proposal “a terrible idea.”
“I think the first question you have to ask is what is best for the students,” Christopher said.
The state Board of Community and Technical Colleges also opposes the merger idea.
“We flat out don't support it,” said Charlie Earl, the state board's executive director who once served as president of Everett Community College. “We don't think it is in the best interest of the state.”
Lake Washington Technical College was asked to provide information about potential costs of sharing a campus with Cascadia, said Shirley Metcalf, vice president of college advancement and extended learning at the technical college.
That information is expected to be reviewed by state lawmakers, she said.
“It would be to relocate all students,” she said.
By design, Cascadia and UW Bothell were built on the same site. Cascadia opened in 2000; UW Bothell in 1989. UW Bothell originally offered junior- and senior-level courses as well as graduate programs.
Its enrollment got a big boost in recent years when the Legislature agreed to let the branch campus accept underclassmen. A major road project improving access to the campus also is seen as a key to student growth.
Enrollment rose from 1,508 during the 2005-06 school year to 2,801 this year. University leaders project that enrollment could reach 7,000 over the next decade.
Chan recently told the House Higher Education Committee that UW Bothell is on pace to receive almost 2,000 applications for 300 freshman slots next fall and it had to turn away 250 transfer applicants this year because of a lack of state funding.
Chan said he wants UW Bothell to be able to ramp up to 5,000 students “as rapidly as we can.” That would allow the university to produce 1,000 more bachelor's degreees a year “in very short order,” he said. “That's a significant number for this state.”
Some lawmakers say freeing up space for UW Bothell could help meet a goal of increasing the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the state.
Christopher said moving Cascadia students off the main campus, and away from a library it shares with UW Bothell, “certainly would not be a benefit to Cascadia students.”
More than three-quarters of Cascadia students plan to transfer to universities. Of those, 42 percent enroll at UW Bothell and 28 percent at the UW in Seattle.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, a Bothell Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said the merger idea is worth examining, but she has yet to form an opinion.
“I think that certainly is an important question to ask,” McAuliffe said. “Given the downturn in our economy and the cuts that will have to be made this year and the years coming upon us, we need to look at how we can partner with institutions and businesses around the state. We have to look at how we can optimize the higher education system.”
At the same time, McAuliffe said she wouldn't want to hurt Cascadia.
Rep. Mark Ericks, D-Bothell, described the plan as “a brainstorm at this point.”
As Ericks understood it, some Cascadia students and programs would be shifted to Lake Washington Technical College. Then UW Bothell would use the vacated space, rather than build a new building, to serve its growing enrollment.
Ericks said if the proposal called for closing the community college and letting the branch campus have the entire property, “I would be opposed to that with every part of my body.”
But if it amounts to changing locations without harming the community college and allowing the university to grow, “I think it is worth a look” in this legislative session or in the future, he said.
Being able to save money while still fulfilling the missions of both UW Bothell and Cascadia is worth a look, either in this legislative session or in the future, he said.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish and chairman of the House capital budget committee, is more skeptical.
“Right now, it's pretty improbable because of the money it would take to build up Lake Washington Technical,” he said. “You would have to move all those students out of Cascadia, and you just don't dump them in the parking lot there.”
Dunshee also said he wants to see more bachelor's degrees awarded in the Everett area. Plans for a UW branch campus in north Snohomish County have landed on the back burner because of lack of consensus on where to put it and the struggling economy, but closer access to students in the region remains a goal, he said.
Rep Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, speaks highly of UW Bothell, which awarded him a bachelor's degree in policy studies in 2006 and named him a distinguished alum earlier this year.
“I would love to see that university expand,” Hope said.
At the same time, he said he would want to see more details before pledging his support for a merger.
Chan said a merger is just one idea for increasing the number of people getting bachelor's degrees in tough times.
“Coupled with potential budget cuts, lawmakers and administrators alike are looking at innovative ways to keep the state's education priorities moving,” he said.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.
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