WSU-Everett a step closer with Senate action

OLYMPIA — Those working to plant the flag of Washington State University in Everett have moved a step closer to their goal.

It happened Wednesday night when the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill directing WSU to replace Everett Community College as operator of the University Cen

ter of North Puget Sound in 2014.

This is an important stride toward one day getting a four-year college up and running for residents in Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties, said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.

It passed 39-9 with five Democrats, including Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, among the dissenters.

“Washington State University is a good match for our area,” Haugen said afterward.

State Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, who worked with Haugen to round up votes, sought to allay concerns WSU is muscling in on the community college’s turf.

“We are going to continue to strengthen what has been built at the University Center and create more access to affordable higher education options to the young people of our state,” he said in a statement.

At the University Center, public and private colleges provide an array of bachelor’s and master’s courses. Today, about 500 students are enrolled in the classes conducted on the Everett Community College campus.

Under the proposed legislation, WSU would take charge once it completes a plan for meeting the future academic needs of the region and establishes an engineering degree program at the university center. Both of those steps must occur by July 2013.

Also, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board must bless the change of management.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and WSU President Elson Floyd each praised the Senate vote.

“This has been an issue for Everett and Snohomish County for 20-plus years and I think there’s as great an appreciation for the need now as there has ever been,” Stephanson said.

Floyd said the Senate vote “will allow us to continue the community conversations that we’ve already started.”

Leaders of Everett Community College and the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges oppose the transfer of power.

“Everett Community College sees this as a very complicated issue with many financial implications that the state budget may not be able to meet and that the Legislature has not yet addressed,” said Christine Kerlin, vice president of the University Center.

“At this point, University Center programs are taking applications and we are working on adding more degrees,” she said.

The Senate bill now goes to the House.

There is a similarly worded bill in the House. Its supporters may try to vote on it before focusing on Haugen’s bill.

“I’m extremely pleased that the senator got the bill passed and hopefully we’ll do the same,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett. “I’m looking for the shortest path to success.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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