WSU’s future in Everett all but set

OLYMPIA –It certainly looks like Washington State University will be setting down stakes in Everett.

Those pushing the last year to bring the Pullman-based research university to town face a final legislative hurdle in their quest — and it’s one they’ve scaled before.

In the coming days, state senators will be asked for a second time to approve a bill putting WSU in charge of the University Center of North Puget Sound based on the campus of Everett Community College.

If they do, it’s on to the governor for her expected signing.

“Despite all the bad news we have around every corner, this is a bright spot for the future of the region,” said Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett.

WSU won’t be raising its flag too quickly on a program run by Everett Community College.

At the University Center, public and private colleges provide bachelor’s and master’s degree courses to about 500 students. Classes are conducted online and in classrooms at the community college.

What lawmakers are doing — with the support of WSU and the city and over the objections of EvCC leaders — is laying out a blueprint for a change of leadership in July 2014.

“I hope that we can deliver. I hope that we can open some new doors for higher education in the region,” said Everett executive director Pat McClain. “I think when the dust clears I really look forward to the community pulling together and providing new approaches to old problems.”

Lawmakers are making the transfer contingent on WSU completing a number of tasks in the next couple years, including offering an engineering course through the center.

The bill creates a council to coordinate with WSU on ensuring the takeover with minimal disruption to what’s there now. That council will be populated with representatives from the university, partners in the University Center and the community.

WSU and the council also must write a plan for how the academic needs of north Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties will be served well into the future. One of the aspects is how undergraduate and graduate engineering degree programs will be expanded to ensure there is a skilled workforce available for the Boeing Co. and other employers in the three-county region.

This plan must be done by Dec. 1, 2012. If approved by the state Higher Education Coordination Board, the transition toward a July 2014 change of command will get under way.

On Saturday, the House voted 66-31 to amend and pass Senate Bill 5636 spelling out the process for transferring power.

Opponents said the state cannot afford an expansion of WSU into Everett when it is cutting funds to all existing two- and four-year institutions of higher education. It’s a long-term commitment the state will not be able to keep, they said.

Four lawmakers whose districts include part of Snohomish County opposed the bill. They were Reps. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe; Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish; Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace and Derek Stanford, D-Bothell.

By the time that vote arrived, opposition from the community college had lapsed.

“We are following the progress of this bill and plan to continue our role in enhancing access to advanced degrees for this region, as we have been effectively and efficiently doing for the past five years,” said Christine Kerlin, vice president in charge of the University Center and Strategic Planning. “We have university degree programs right now that are taking applications for summer and fall classes.”

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, who steered the legislation to the floor Saturday, said it’s not been easy taking this small step toward expanding access to higher education in the area.

“This whole thing has been like pushing a boulder up a hill,” he said.

Learn more

House report on the bill: http://tinyurl.com/3ltmdqx

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