WSU officials discussed an agreement Wednesday in which the university will take over administration of the University Center of North Puget Sound, an educational co-op of several higher learning institutions.
Long-term plans call for the fledgling institution to nearly triple in size by 2021, both in academic programs offered and enrollment.
"We'll make sure we have programs that serve the needs of the community," Washington State president Elson Floyd said.
Everett Community College has been managing the consortium, whose members include Western Washington University, Central Washington University and the University of Washington's Bothell campus.
Floyd spoke at a meeting Wednesday at EvCC attended by several state legislators, heads of local colleges, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and business leaders.
The University Center of North Puget Sound began offering classes two years ago after it was created by the Legislature in 2011. Classes have been held at Gray Wolf Hall at EvCC.
The Legislature's plan called for WSU to take over by summer 2014.
Studies showed that Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties are underserved when it comes to higher education, and that businesses need graduates to feed the state's aerospace and high-tech industries.
They also showed that UW Bothell was not drawing students from Everett and north Snohomish County at the rate envisioned when that branch campus was created, said Paul Pitre, special assistant to Floyd.
Currently, 14 programs are offered at University Center, with four more coming by the end of 2014. A nursing program through St. Martin's University of Lacey is planned to begin in January, with hospitality management, electrical engineering and communications coming later in the year.
Plans call for 11 more programs to be added by 2017 and another 13 by 2021, for a total of 42, with an emphasis in science, technology, engineering and math.
Mayor Stephanson said Boeing officials have told him they need graduates with advanced engineering degrees.
"If we're not able to produce the engineers here, that work will migrate," he said.
About 430 students are enrolled in University Center of North Puget Sound classes. Plans aim for 1,200 students by 2021.
To meet that demand, design is underway for a 95,000-square foot building in what is now the expansive parking lot of College Plaza, a forlorn strip mall across from EvCC on north Broadway.
Everett Community College owns College Plaza and uses it for parking.
Conversations last year led to the building proposal and to efforts to buy nearby properties for parking at the new building. The targeted parcels include the Everett Trailer Court and the property with a Subway sandwich shop and a 7-Eleven store.
Earlier this year, the Legislature allocated $10 million to the project -- $7 million for design and $3 million for property acquisition.
State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said the building will cost $60 million to $70 million. He said the Legislature could approve the money in 2015 for construction to begin that year, in time for the building to open in 2017.
Gray Wolf Hall has some room for growth until the new building opens, with university classes held late afternoons and evenings, but there could be a space crunch by 2016, Pitre said.
University Center classes were lacking laboratory space, so room was made in Whitehorse Hall, EvCC President David Beyer said.
The programs have generated a lot of interest among EvCC students and the number of engineering students has doubled, he said.
Pitre said a full branch campus is not necessarily the goal of the expanded higher-ed program.
"Right now what we're focusing on is the development of the University Center and expanding the degree programs offered," he said.
Dunshee said a full campus isn't necessary to address the higher educational needs of an increasingly mobile, tech-savvy society.
"I don't really care what we call it," he said. "A lot more students live at home and go to school around part-time jobs."
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