WSU postpones plan to expand at EvCC

EVERETT — Washington State University won’t be expanding at Everett Community College as fast as hoped, but its president says it is not losing interest in the community.

WSU wanted to launch bachelor’s degree programs in electrical engineering, communications and hospitality-business management in the upcoming school year and sought $2 million in state funding to pay for the additional classes.

But a protracted budget stalemate in Olympia forced WSU this week to shelve its plans until 2014. They did not want to proceed without assurances of funding and now there’s too little time to recruit students before the first day of classes Aug. 19.

“There is no dampening of our commitment at all,” WSU President Elson Floyd insisted. “We will have classes for the fall of 2014.”

Disappointed political leaders said they understand the setback is not of the university’s making.

“This is an unfortunate casualty of the Legislature’s inaction,” said Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson. “I think WSU’s commitment to the North Puget Sound is as strong as ever.”

Floyd stressed WSU intends to steadily enlarge its presence on the campus and in the community. Some, like Stephanson, hope it leads to creation of a branch campus one day.

WSU started offering classes for a mechanical engineering degree in 2012 through the University Center, a consortium of public and private colleges operating on the EvCC campus. And by next year WSU will take over operations of the University Center from EvCC.

Toward that goal, this week Floyd named Paul Pitre as the chief academic and operations officer for the university’s programs in Everett. Pitre, in his role as a special assistant to the president, has led WSU in its preparations for running the University Center.

But there are repercussions from its decision to put off the new courses.

Everett Community College has been expanding its lower-division engineering offerings to create a pipeline of potential students and now some of them will lose out.

“When WSU let us know about the decision last week, I explained that Everett Community College has graduates ready to go when the electrical engineering program starts,” EvCC President David Beyer said in an email. “But we understand why, for financial and logistical reasons, WSU will not be starting the program in the near future.”

And there may be collateral damage to the state’s effort to convince Boeing to design and build its new 777X in Everett.

It’s no secret the aerospace giant faces a long-term need for engineers.

Area lawmakers hoped adding an electrical engineering program this year would send the message that the state is serious about wanting to help fill the workforce needs of Boeing and its suppliers.

“It’s a real impact of the impasse that has already hit,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish. “Those degrees won’t be created. Those employers will go elsewhere for workers.”

The decision is evidence of fallout from the inability of Democratic and Republican lawmakers to reach agreement on a new state budget.

“We’re starting to see Olympia partisanship spill out into the real world with real consequences,” said Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett.

The deadlock has forced the Legislature into its second special session and could cause a shutdown of state government if no budget is in place by July 1.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, one of the leaders in the push to land a four-year university in Snohomish County, said it is “It’s a perfect example that even without a shutdown it is causing things not to happen. It’s frustrating.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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