OLYMPIA — Everett is on the brink of becoming the home of a renowned four-year public university.
Three years after watching a University of Washington branch campus slip though its grasp, the city is poised to realize its long-sought desire for a college with the arrival of Wa
shington State University.
If all goes well, WSU will move onto the campus of Everett Community College in 2014 and set roots from which a full-fledged university could grow.
A bill in front of Gov. Chris Gregoire prescribes steps WSU must take within three years that would put it in c
harge of the existing University Center program now run by EvCC.
There’s no money for WSU to enroll more students, build new classrooms, design a future campus or even install a flag pole to fly the crimson and gray.
Yet for all that it is not, this latest pursuit is seen by those invo
lved as more likely to succeed than the last one because of a better chemistry created from having a different academic partner and less political infighting.
“This is the right time,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, one of the leaders in the House. “It’s gonna grow and it’s gonna be som
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who reached out to WSU in late 2009 and steered the effort to this point, knows success is not guaranteed.
“The big difference, the number one difference is a willing partner, a partner willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us and fight for this,” Stephanson said.
Even as they march forward with WSU, it’s hard to forget the bitter spat which torpedoed the UW campus.
“There is work to do getting a plan in place,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, a figure on the front line of the last battle. “This is more of a done deal than anything we’ve ever had.”
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, fought Sells and Dunshee in the UW debate. She teamed up with them this time and sponsored the bill now sitting on Gregoire’s desk.
“This has been a long fight, but it’s been worth it because our kids’ futures depend on it,” she said. “We have working-poor families where both parents are working, who can’t send their kids to college because they can’t afford the room and board or travel costs to our existing schools. This puts a four-year degree within their grasp.”
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon worked to establish an independent polytechnic university and had a big role in the UW scrape. This time, he has none. He called the WSU effort the smallest possible step.
“What started as Snohomish County needed a university turned into Snohomish County will get a branch campus. That morphed into Snohomish County will get a classroom,” he said. “Now it’s moved to we’ll change the nameplate of the existing University Center with the hope that WSU will be more inclined to offer additional classes in three years.”
Remembering the past
Landing a four-year university in the state’s third largest county has been an obsession of lawmakers and civic leaders for nearly half a century.
Olympia beat out Arlington in 1967 to become home of The Evergreen State College. Two decades later, Bothell beat out Everett for a branch campus of the University of Washington, and political wrangling guaranteed its location in the King County side of town.
Since 2005, there’s been an uninterrupted push bolstered by a series of studies — the latest coming out earlier this month — revealing how badly Snohomish County lags behind other counties in its access to an undergraduate degree.
The dream never seemed closer than it did in 2007. That year, the Legislature directed the University of Washington to draw up a plan for a four-year stand-alone university with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math. A search for a site began, too.
The Legislature set aside $4 million to pay for that work and initial classes.
In January 2008, Gregoire warned community leaders and legislators they were going to blow it because of a bitter divide on whether to build a campus at Everett Station or on a large parcel near Smokey Point.
They did blow it. The money disappeared, and in April 2009 all that remained was a pledge in a state budget that the next four-year state-funded college would be in Snohomish County.
Stephanson, Sells and Dunshee fought together as much for the UW campus as they have to bring WSU to town.
There’s one primary reason they feel this time will bring different results: WSU President Elson Floyd.
Sells put it this way: “Elson said we want to do it. Mark (Emmert, former UW president) would equivocate. He was a nice guy, but he would equivocate.”
WSU made clear it wouldn’t talk with Everett about a partnership until UW had cleared out of the picture.
By December 2009, Stephanson figured it had.
“It was my increasing belief that the University of Washington was not going to and was not willing to put a significant presence in our community,” Stephanson said. “What we would get and what we are getting is out of Bothell. In the future, it is not enough.”
Stephanson, for whom landing a college appears to be a legacy project, wrote Floyd to ask if he’d consider having WSU offer mechanical engineering classes at the University Center at Everett Community College.
EvCC manages the center, which is a collaboration of eight public and private colleges that offer an array of undergraduate and graduate classes. Today about 500 students are enrolled.
Starting then, Stephanson and Floyd cultivated a relationship over the next year and crafted a strategy now embodied in the bill awaiting the governor’s signature.
Purple and gold
A top University of Washington leader said UW did what the state Legislature — and Snohomish County lawmakers — asked them to do.
“I’m really proud of the time, effort and energy we put in to trying to make something work up there,” said Randy Hodgins, vice president for external affairs, who spent hundreds of hours on the undertaking in 2007 and 2008.
The UW did not lose interest in serving the area, he said. It started offering courses in nursing in 2010 and will add electrical engineering later this year — all through the University Center.
UW officials were approached last year about managing the University Center but didn’t pursue it in the face of opposition from the community colleges.
“We were not willing to do what Washington State University is doing this year,” he said. “I wish WSU the best of luck and hope they can build something lasting up there.”
Friends not foes
Another reason WSU may find a lasting home in Everett is Haugen, the powerful state senator from Camano Island.
In 2008, she wanted the UW to build in Marysville and battled hard against Dunshee and Sells. No one gave in, and everyone watched the dream disappear.
But Haugen likes WSU and preferred them settling at the community college than at the transit station.
“To me this is too important. If not now, when?” she said. “Elson is someone who worked with us and was not ho-hum, we’ll come if you want us. The attitude has been totally different working with WSU.”
Dunshee convinced Stephanson that Haugen should be the lead sponsor of the bill now headed to the governor.
The mayor’s first choice was rookie Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett. Haugen would not have co-sponsored a bill authored by Harper because he had unseated her friend, Jean Berkey, in a controversial election. At that juncture in the session, she was not signing onto Harper’s bills out of loyalty to Berkey.
On the other hand, Dunshee knew if Haugen took the lead she’d push it with the same force as he encountered on the UW scrape. Moreover, state lawmakers would see Haugen and Dunshee agreeing on this issue, which hadn’t happened before.
“It was great to work with her,” Dunshee said, adding the two embraced following the final vote in the Senate on Thursday.
For opponents, Haugen proved the difference.
“She was sort of the linchpin that flipped this thing,” said Gene Chase, Everett Community College trustee. “We thought we had it tied up in the Senate. She went around and changed some minds.”
From the outset, those behind the WSU bid did not seek support for a stand-alone college because the state simply could not afford it.
Economic realities made taking over the University Center the most viable, least costly means of expanding WSU’s presence. The program added classes and increased enrollment each year since the state put EvCC in charge in 2005.
Lawmakers considered it ripe for evolution to the next stage — affiliation with a research university and a possible future at a location of its own.
Stephanson laid out his vision the morning of Jan. 20 in his State of the City address to business leaders.
Hours later in Olympia, he met with Sells, Dunshee and Harper to discuss specific language of a bill. Also there was Charlie Earl, executive director of the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges; his board president blasted the mayor’s proposal in an email to state legislators that same day.
“It was a very tough hour, hour and a half,” Stephanson said of the meeting.
Community colleges, including EvCC, viewed this as a hostile takeover. They feared a chilling effect on efforts of two-year schools to build alliances with any of the state’s half-dozen four-year colleges.
Sells and Harper, not wanting any part of a civil war between the city and community colleges, left the meeting without promising to carry the legislation.
“You realize then it would be difficult,” Sells said. “I wondered if we’d get it there. It’s always a team thing. There was a tremendous drive from the city folks. They kept pushing and hauling.”
In the ensuing weeks, the bill evolved to give EvCC and University Center partners a louder voice in the planning for transition and the future operation under WSU.
“It wasn’t a perfect ending, but it was closer than it had been,” said EvCC President David Beyer. “At some point you have to take what’s in front of you and accept it.”
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, fought it to the end. She’s convinced UW’s Bothell campus can serve the county’s needs and worries about its funding siphoned off to help WSU grow in future years.
“With the financial situation of the state, I cannot see how we can possibly move forward and keep our promises to the branch campuses that we currently have a commitment,” she said. “We don’t need to build colleges within 20 minutes of each other.”
No one knows for certain if this effort will lead to WSU arriving in 2014 and setting up its own campus farther in the future.
“That’s a tough question to answer. That’s three years from now,” Beyer said. “Three years ago is when we were dealing with the University of Washington. A lot can change in three years.
“I know there won’t be the same partners at the center,” he said. “I don’t know how that all plays out in the long run.”
Reardon said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that this is a step in the right direction.
“It’s not a four-year college. It’s not a branch campus. It is symbolic,” Reardon said. “Whether it will be truly substantive remains to be seen.”
Harper couched it as an opportunity for the community to design what it wants in a thoughtful way.
“This is where the process becomes public and the politics are taken out of it,” he said. “As a community we need to decide how much we want to invest and how we want to do it. We have three years to do it.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on Senate Bill 5636 can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/63hnzx7.
March 21 — Gov. Dan Evans signs law naming Olympia, not Arlington, as future site of The Evergreen State College.
May 10 — The Legislature approves funding for the start of a University of Washington branch campus in Bothell
May 15 — Gov. Chris Gregoire signs a budget with $4 million for developing a UW branch campus to serve north Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties.
November — Everett Station and an undeveloped Smokey Point parcel emerge as top choices as possible site for the campus
January-April — When lawmakers fail to pick a site in regular session, unspent funds are struck from budget.
Dec. 1 — Consultant determines lawmakers and community leaders of the three counties cannot reach consensus on a site.
April 26 — Language inserted in Capital Budget says the state’s next four-year college will be put in Snohomish County.
Dec. 22 — Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson asks WSU President Elson Floyd to offer mechanical engineering classes at the University Center at Everett Community College. Thus begins conversation of expanding WSU presence in the city.
Dec. 13 — Stephanson makes presentation to Everett Community College Board of Trustees.
Dec. 21 – Stephanson and Floyd outline vision to EvCC board.
Jan. 20 — Stephanson declares in State of the City address he’ll ask lawmakers to put WSU in charge of the University Center. State Board of Community and Technical Colleges announces opposition. Stephanson, city lobbyists, Everett-area lawmakers and community college officials meet in Olympia.
Jan. 24 — Floyd sends letter to legislative leaders explaining WSU’s interest in Everett.
Feb. 2 — Identical bills introduced in House and Senate to put WSU in charge of the center.
Feb. 7 — EvCC trustees pass resolution backing the center’s continued operation by the community college.
March 2 — Senate passes SB 5636 on 39-9 vote.
March 23 — Everett City Council adopts resolution endorsing WSU’s takeover of University Center.
April 9 — House amends, passes SB 5636 on a 66-31 vote.
April 21 – SB 5636 gains final approval in Senate and is sent to the governor.
What the bill does:
n Assigns management and leadership of the University Center of North Puget Sound to Washington State University in July 2014.
n Requires WSU to submit a plan to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2012 for meeting the academic needs of the region and employers’ demand for skilled workers, and establishing an engineering degree program at the center.
n Requires the state Higher Education Coordinating Board approve the plan.
n Establishes a nine-member council to develop and carry out long-range and strategic planning for the center.
n Council membership will be: WSU president and provost; EvCC president; two representatives of colleges offering degree programs at the center; a student enrolled at the center and two community leaders with the EvCC president and Everett mayor each appointing one; the center director will serve as chairman or chairwoman and a nonvoting member.