WSU chief says education bolsters community

  • By Kurt Batdorf HBJ Editor
  • Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:09pm

EVERETT — Communities that don’t support education are poorer places for it, Washington State University President Elson Floyd told about 400 guests gathered for the Everett Community College Foundation’s fundraising breakfast Tuesday morning.

The foundation’s annual scholarship benefit gave Floyd a platform from which to explain WSU’s commitment to Snohomish County and its growing partnership with Everett Community College. He sees a future in which WSU garners as many partners as possible in economic development.

“As taxpayers, you’ve invested in public institutions,” Floyd said. “We want to make sure our investment can have an impact on this community.”

He said WSU will offer degree programs that focus on improving business productivity in farming, aerospace and energy sustainability; research into maritime manufacturing; and tourism and hospitality. He said WSU will continue to study emerging employment sectors where demand for graduates is growing and adjust academic programs accordingly.

To accommodate an expected wave of retiring Boeing engineers, WSU has already boosted the number of engineering degrees it offers through the University Center of North Puget Sound on the EvCC campus.

“If you want to make a change to an individual’s life, an investment in education will make a difference,” Floyd said.

His own upbringing is proof of that. Floyd’s parents didn’t go to school beyond the eighth grade, he said, yet they insisted that he and his three brothers all go to college and graduate. They did, and they’re all now in leadership roles in their respective careers, he said.

Floyd said he was lucky to get a full college scholarship.

“I benefited in a very significant way,” he said.

Gifts to institutions do serve to help the community, Floyd said, but those dollars are getting stretched thin. The steep increases in tuition students and their families have faced for years are a tremendous financial burden and unsustainable. Institutions must consider those costs, he said, otherwise “we will be priced out of higher education if we don’t act.”

Floyd is involved in state-level talks to address tuition costs at Washington’s public colleges and universities, which have exploded as the state cut its support of higher education by 52 percent.

“Students and parents need relief from these double-digit tuition hikes,” Floyd said.

EvCC Associated Student Body President Teresa Weldon spoke to that issue. Many students often must choose between paying tuition or paying rent.

“I know a lot of students who are living in their cars,” she said. “They don’t know where they’ll get their next meal.”

She said her first EvCC Foundation scholarship of $300 seems modest, but it meant she could buy gas to get to classes, which fueled her academic success. Any scholarship amount makes a huge difference in student achievement since it alleviates stress and helps students meet their goals.

“I feel like Everett Community College is my family,” Weldon said. “I know there are a lot of people in my corner rooting for me.”

Floyd said WSU is doing its part on costs this year by holding tuition increases to the rate of inflation — 2 percent. He wants that to serve as an example of how WSU will fit into Snohomish County.

“We’ll bring that principle to this community,” he said. “We’ll be very good partners and very good neighbors.”

Kurt Batdorf: 425-339-3102; kbatdorf@heraldnet.com.