WSU in Everett to offer degree in organic food production

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 1, 2016 9:06pm
  • Local News

EVERETT — A financial nugget in this year’s budget will allow Washington State University to further expand its academic portfolio in Everett.

The heavily negotiated spending plan contains $580,000 for WSU to bring its renowned Organic Agriculture Systems degree program to a growing base of operations on the campus of Everett Community College.

When classes start in 2017, students at WSU North Puget Sound will receive instruction in all aspects of organic food production. The degree, now offered on the main campus in Pullman, was the first of its kind in the nation.

“We’re thrilled,” said Chris Mulick, director of state relations for the university. “Anything we can do to add to the fleet of offerings in Everett is just fantastic.”

Securing the money was no cinch.

Lawmakers’ priorities for this year’s supplemental budget were paying for last year’s wildfires and tackling emerging concerns such as a shortage of teachers, increasing numbers of homeless children and a rising demand for mental health services.

WSU turned out be the only four-year university receiving money for a new program offering a bachelor’s of arts degree.

“This was a tough deal,” Mulick said. “This was not easy to do in a supplemental budget year.”

Enter Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chairman of the House Appropriations and the lead budget writer for the majority House Democrats.

Washington State University sought $832,000 in state funds to launch this degree program and a second one in conventional agriculture practices.

Dunshee, an ardent supporter of WSU’s efforts in Everett, penciled in $580,000 for the organic agriculture degree in the initial budget passed by the House. Meanwhile, the first spending plan passed in the Republican- controlled Senate contained no money for those classes.

After negotiators couldn’t reach a budget deal in regular session, talks continued into special session. Senate Republicans continued to resist giving WSU the money, Dunshee said.

“They held it. It wasn’t until the last night that they agreed,” he said.

Given the protracted budget negotiations, area lawmakers were pleasantly surprised to see the sum in the final agreement enacted earlier this week and sent to the governor for signing.

“Isn’t that awesome,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett. “Given the difficulty of negotiations, I was not really optimistic to get it in. I’m really happy that happened.”

Classes are expected to start sometime in 2017, university officials said.

This will be the seventh degree program launched by Washington State University since 2012. That’s when it began the process of taking over administration of University Center, a collaboration of public and private colleges based on the Everett Community College campus.

WSU now offers bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, integrated strategic communications and hospitality business management. Degree programs in software engineering and data analytics are on track to start this fall.

Meanwhile, construction is well under way on a four-story, 95,000-square-foot building in the parking lot of College Plaza shopping center across the street from the main EvCC campus.

This will be the future home of WSU North Puget Sound and the University Center.

Work is expected to finish in time for the start of the 2017 school year. When it opens, it will have at least a dozen classrooms, 10 laboratories, offices, a small café and an area for public gatherings.

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

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