In Everett, collaborating to produce more degrees

By Paul E. Pitre and Larry Hanson

A recent report on Washington’s higher education system by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania has touched off a lively discussion in Olympia.

Are Washington’s leaders truly united around a vision of a first-class higher education system? Is the proper statewide coordination in place to encourage cooperation and partnerships among educational institutions? Do we have adequate capacity to educate the graduates that our state’s economy will need to grow and prosper?

We will leave the statewide decision-making to those vested with that authority. However, looking at the issues from the viewpoint of our region, we hope that the continued progress on University Center of North Puget Sound will serve as a positive example of what community, education, business and political leaders can do when they work together.

After nearly three decades of waiting, the North Puget Sound region has a four-year university partnership with Washington State University. After nearly 30 years of persistence, the Everett and North Puget Sound region have an opportunity to grow a culture around four-year higher education attendance and add to the long-term success it has experienced with Everett Community College.

This is not only an important step for Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties, this is an important step for the state of Washington.

It is no secret that our Evergreen state has a robust community college system (one of the top systems in the nation). Similarly, our four-year university system produces students that are leaders in business and industry, compete in graduate education and produce high-quality research, and engage in civic and creative activity around the globe.

But the one problem we have is that we do not produce enough of our own leaders. Washington lags behind 90 percent of the other states in the number of in-state residents of college age who go on to study at the four-year level. Traditionally, we have had to import many graduates from elsewhere to fill key jobs. That is a problem the University Center of North Puget Sound, with its focus on partnerships, plans to help solve.

The University Center of North Puget Sound, under the leadership of Washington State University, will partner with the K-12 system, all five of the other state institutions that offer programs at the University Center, two private institutions and Everett Community College, our primary partner, to expand access to bachelor and graduate degree programs. The success of the University Center depends on the continued cooperation among all education providers and the commitment of our civic, business and community leadership.

It is an important model that relies on existing structures to improve access to and success in higher education. The leadership of Mayor Ray Stephanson and the City of Everett have been pivotal and our North Puget Sound lawmakers in Olympia have been instrumental in summoning the political will to make this initiative a reality. We plan to continue to build on that progress so that they can point to our work as a model of what can happen in other parts of the state as well.

The issues raised by the University of Pennsylvania study are real ones. Our state needs a coordinated educational approach, not just among colleges and universities, but a truly collaborative P-20 approach. We need more higher education access and capacity, close to major population centers. We need to produce more of the science and engineering graduates that companies such as Boeing and our state’s other high-tech firms need to thrive.

Those are statewide goals; they are our goals at University Center as well. We look forward to reaching those goals together.

Paul E. Pitre is special assistant to the president for academic affairs in North Puget Sound at Washington State University. Larry Hanson is publisher emeritus of The Herald and a former member of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Learn more about the University Center of North Puget Sound at www.uceverett.org.