By Christina Harper For HBJ
Washington State University brings its prestige — and an expanded lineup of courses — when it takes control today of the University Center at Everett Community College.
WSU will lead the center, which brings together several universities and colleges that offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs on the community college campus.
“We’ve been working with Everett Community College and other partner institutions to make this a seamless transition,” said Paul Pitre, dean at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett.
This fall, WSU is starting three new four-year programs in hospitality management, communications and electrical engineering, with the latter already full.
The University Center is expected to add thirteen degree programs between 2014 and 2017, the majority of which will be from WSU.
The changeover and added classes is already generating interest.
“Applications are almost threefold to a year ago,” Pitre said.
It’s not the branch campus sought by community leaders for decades. But it’s a giant step in that direction.
“It’s important to keep in perspective that we have been hopeful for 30 years,” said Bob Drewel, interim chancellor of WSU North Puget Sound at Everett and former EVCC President. “And that’s what WSU presents.”
While WSU has been part of the University Center for years, the university’s name at the top of the masthead resonates not only with students but also in the halls of Olympia.
Last year, the Legislature set aside $10 million for the design of a new facility for the University Center on the campus.
The Legislature has also provided support to increase the number of faculty and students in engineering and computer science.
Another idea they are working on for the next legislative session is the possibility of a school in advanced management in aerospace, Pitre said.
“This would be the first kind of school for this University Center,” Pitre said.
The school would be an amalgamation of various engineering programs and other areas that support advanced manufacturing and aerospace.
“If there is funding available for these degree programs, it gives faculty reassurance that programs are viable,” Pitre said. “If we have the resources it usually takes about a year to get a program like that off the ground.”
The changes and academic offerings will have an important impact on the business community in and around Snohomish County, Drewel said.
“And just as exciting is what we are planning to do in the future,” he said
The University Center is already developing relationships with partners for programs that look to needs in the future such as food agriculture that impacts Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties.
One of the questions discussed before adding programs is how they might match up with the economics of the region.
Members of the Economic Alliance Snohomish County view their role as advocacy by helping facilitate and making sure vital issues such as transportation, education and world class infrastructure remain part of the dialogue, said Chris Knapp, chief legal officer for The Everett Clinic and chairman of Economic Alliance’s board of trustees.
“We are really, really pleased to see higher education institutions working cooperatively to see this happen,” Knapp said. “The alliance is excited at the opportunity of having WSU embedded in the community in a meaningful way.”
All of the colleges and universities working under the University Center umbrella is positive. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Western Washington University and the University of Washington are part of the consortium and were concerned their share of enrollment slots may be jeopardized once WSU is fully in command.
They tried unsuccessfully to get state lawmakers to make sure their slots are not touched.
Each university in the consortium manages applications, enrollment and degree programs while EVCC manages the facility.
Still, the new programs are a great opportunity for students who for family or financial reasons might not want to go north, south, or east, said Pat McClain, governmental affairs director at the City of Everett.
“Since the middle 90s we were in betweeners,” McClain said.
Students wishing to attend universities for a four-year degree had to leave Snohomish County to do so.
“It’s not just a class, it’s a program,” McClain said. “I think it’s huge.”