WSU branch in Everett will be tough sell
Everett’s mayor and Washington State University’s president propose eventually establishing a WSU branch campus in the city, but there are many who need to be convinced.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and WSU President Elson Floyd are working to give the university a solid foothold in the community by 2013, which could be the springboard to a long-sought campus.
"I believe that the community deserves more and we need to start that effort today," Stephanson said Thursday morning in a state of the city address to business leaders.
As the day wore on, it became clear the undertaking faces many challenges -- much like the attempt to land a University of Washington branch campus.
That effort collapsed two years ago amid division among politicians on whether the college should be built in Everett or Marysville. And had a site been agreed on, funding was not guaranteed as other higher-education institutions fretted about another competitor for scarce state dollars.
Similar concerns are popping up already. Leaders of two- and four-year schools and some lawmakers are lukewarm, worried the plan and the time aren't right for trying this again.
Most of the worry now is generated by the linchpin of the proposal.
Stephanson and Floyd want the Legislature to transfer control of the University Center of Puget Sound from Everett Community College to WSU in July 2013.
Doing so would put WSU at the helm of a collaborative which serves about 500 students with an array of courses offered by seven public and private colleges, including Western Washington and Eastern Washington universities.
Stephanson and city lobbyists crafted a bill to do this and went to Olympia Thursday with hopes of handing it off to two Everett lawmakers for introduction as early as today.
Instead, Rep. Mike Sells and Sen. Nick Harper left a meeting with the mayor and others, saying the bill needs more work. They both declined to say if they will carry it.
Also Thursday, the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges publicly opposed wresting control of the University Center from EvCC.
"We are still negotiating the whole process," said a visibly disappointed Stephanson. "We need to take a little more time to draw up a preliminary road map."
Said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who also attended the meeting: "I thought we were a little closer. I'm disappointed. We're still going to get there."
Since Stephanson became mayor, he's worked tirelessly to bring a four-year college to Everett.
At his state of the city address three years ago, purple and gold water bottles emblazoned with the UW logo were handed out as he urged business leaders to lobby lawmakers to choose Everett as the home for a branch campus.
A year ago, with that pursuit buried, he reached out to Floyd to gauge interest in planting WSU's flag in town.
"Politics in education makes the real world look like pikers," Stephanson said in his address. "This is not an issue of being a Cougar or a Husky, but of who wants to be our education partner in the long term."
Floyd was open to helping paint the city in crimson and gray.
"I felt that it's long overdue to have more educational opportunities in the Everett community," Floyd said Thursday.
With the state slashing funding for higher education because of a budget deficit, they knew there'd be no money to launch a new institution. Instead, they came up with the idea of putting WSU in charge of an existing one and build it up over time.
Stephanson said Floyd committed to eventually shifting enrollments from other WSU campuses to add courses in engineering. That would help serve the needs of the Boeing Co. and other aerospace firms in desperate need of new engineers to replace retiring ones, Stephanson said.
Everett Community College officials and trustees said they, too, want to help expand opportunities for college students. They want more information on how transferring control of the center would do that.
"The direct proposal to move the University Center to Washington State University has very strong implications that have yet to be explored," said Christine Kerlin, vice president for the University Center and strategic planning.
Floyd acknowledged there are suspicions about the university's intentions.
"There will be some who maintain WSU is taking over. That is not the case," he said.
He said he wants the colleges involved in the collaborative to continue their existing programs.
"We'll have to make sure that the Legislature and the community broadly understands that we want to be a good productive partner with Everett," he said.
Reaction was mixed among state lawmakers who had been at the epicenter of the UW branch campus battle.
"I prefer them to the University of Washington," said state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. "If it really is as it was presented to me, as a way to provide engineering instruction and training for Boeing employees, I do support it."
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said he's not "entirely against the proposal. But I am currently cool to the idea."
"I find it strange that leaders of higher education are coming here asking for money and saying they don't want us to cut, then talk about expansion," he said. "I am a little puzzled about it."
Herald writer Mike Benbow contributed to this report. Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; email@example.com.
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