EVERETT — For 20 years in Snohomish County, Columbia College has been providing classes and degrees for servicemen and women, their families, veterans and others in the community.
Columbia College started offering classes at the Navy Support Complex in Smokey Point in 1995 and continues to offer classes there and at Naval Station Everett.
The college held a low-key celebration.
“We just let people know that we are here and we’ve been here for a long time,” said Marjean Knokey, who oversees Columbia College’s Western campuses and is the director of the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island campus.
The college offers mainly night classes aimed at adult learners. While the majority of students have military ties, anyone in the community can take classes.
The college has the flexibility that works for military members, but is also practical for other adults looking to further their education, said Stan Monusko, director of the Navy College Office at Naval Station Everett. He pointed out the college has in-seat classes, online classes and hybrid classes where students do coursework in the classroom and online.
Monusko, who is retired military and who helps direct service personnel to higher education options, has received an associates, bachelors and master’s degrees from Columbia College.
“People think it’s a Navy school,” Monusko said. “It’s just a civilian school that’s been invited to offer services in our facilities.”
The college’s home campus is in Columbia, Missouri, but the college operates 36 off-site campuses across the U.S. with 18 on military bases.
In Washington, Columbia College serves both Naval Station Everett and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Last year, the college had 389 students taking classes in Everett and Smokey Point.
Of those, 272 were affiliated with the military being either active duty, spouses, dependents or veterans. That means more than 100 students came from the community. The Smokey Point classes draw many Tulalip Tribes members, Knokey said.
On Whidbey Island, the college served 648 students; last year, more than 90 percent had military ties.
Classes vary by campus and session; the sessions are eight-weeks long. Some areas of study include business, psychology and criminal justice, which is a popular field for many of the military personnel, said Sam Fleury, assistant director of communications for the college.
The college was founded in 1851 as Christian Women’s College about five blocks away from the University of Missouri. The curators of that university were looking for a place for their daughters to go to college. The college started allowing men to attend in 1970 and that’s when it changed its named to Columbia College.
Columbia College still has an affiliation with the First Christian Church.
A few years later, in 1973, Columbia College was approached by an Army education services officer who wanted the college to offer classes to Army recruiters in St. Louis.
“I don’t know why the military picked up the phone and called us, but they did and we got on board with it,” Fleury said.
It’s been one of the major reasons for the rapid expansion of the college. Today, about 25,000 students take courses each year through Columbia College and only about 1,000 attend the home campus.
“Our president (Scott Dalrymple) likes to say we were military friendly before military friendly was cool,” Fleury said.
The college first started offering classes in Washington in 1975 serving sailors at Naval Station Seattle in Sand Point. The college moved north to the Navy Support Complex at Smokey Point in 1995. Columbia College established its Whidbey Island branch in 2001.
The college campuses have about 50 instructors and many of the faculty teach at other colleges around the Puget Sound region, Knokey said.
Several colleges that offer classes to the military have come under fire for high debt and poor outcomes. It’s a disturbing trend, said, Knokey, who has been in higher education for 40 years. She said that Columbia College is a non-profit and that sets it apart from the for-profit colleges.
“We’re not paying stockholders,” Knokey said. “We’re trying to keep our tuition low and any money that comes through is floated back into the system.”
The military pays up to $4,000 for as many as five classes for servicemen and women each year. Columbia College has kept its fees under that threshold.
“We’ve tried to offer a good product at a good price,” Knokey said.
Monusko, who works at the base helping sailors learn about higher education choices, said he agrees that the college is a good, affordable option.
“I’m pretty proud of them as a school and not just because I attended there,” Monusko said. “I think they’re a good choice for people.”