EVERETT – Local lawmakers will try to convince Gov. Chris Gregoire to include $31 million in her proposed budget to buy land and plan for a university in Snohomish County.
“It’s important to get the money in the governor’s budget,” said Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett. “I think we have the momentum to carry this through.”
What Berkey and several other political and business leaders want is a four-year independent university with a focus on science and technology, similar to California’s polytechnic state universities in Pomona and San Luis Obispo. It also would offer liberal arts and other programs.
At an Everett-area Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday, green buttons with white letters proclaimed: “Make it so! WIT Washington Institute of Technology Everett.”
A committee of business and elected leaders appointed by the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board voted in August to endorse the stand-alone university proposal.
Their work was part of a $500,000 study ordered by the Legislature last year to address the long-term higher education needs of north Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties.
Snohomish County is one of the nation’s largest counties without a four-year public university within its borders.
The polytechnic proposal is drawing resistance from community colleges and the University of Washington Bothell.
Steven Olswang, chancellor at the UW Bothell, said he feels demand for university degrees in the three-county region can be met by expanding resources that are already available.
Six area lawmakers, including three from Bothell, asked UW Bothell last Monday to present a plan on how it would serve Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, said a UW Bothell program in the Marysville-Everett area is “a rational, practical option” that would save costs of another university administration.
Olswang said UW Bothell can offer classes much sooner than a new university could be built. He plans to outline the proposal sometime this week.
Some lawmakers say branching off from a branch campus of a Seattle university isn’t the way to go.
“When you become an extension of an extension, you become third string,” said Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Mill Creek.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said she understands the pressures facing existing colleges but doesn’t think UW or others should stand in the way.
“They fear they’ll wind up with a smaller piece of the pie if we add a new school to the mix,” she said. “But instead of fighting over the existing pie, we need to make the pie bigger and provide opportunities that truly serve our students.”
Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, said his first choice is a stand-alone university, but he is interested in reading the UW Bothell plan.
“We want something that is consistent, that is long-term and has close access,” he said.
Consultants say a new university would need 300 acres. Possible locations include Everett, Marysville, Arlington and Stanwood.
They also say a four-year university could open modestly in four years in leased space and grow to 8,000 students by 2025.
The state Higher Education Coordinating Board could vote on the Snohomish County university proposal as early as Oct. 27 in Yakima. It’s required to send a recommendation to the governor and the Legislature by Dec. 1.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said there is something “fundamentally wrong” when students with 3.7 grade point averages can’t get into the University of Washington in Seattle.
More options are needed, he said.
He also urged UW Bothell and the community colleges to be part of a united front.
“When you cut through all the money issues and turf issues, this is about access for our kids and our grandkids,” Stephanson said.
“It is vitally important that we put our self-interests aside,” Stephanson said.