Several city councils in Snohomish County, including Mountlake Terrace, have passed resolutions backing a new four-year college for the county, but the Mill Creek City Council appears ready to buck that trend.
Instead, it seems the council will instead approve a resolution favoring a branch campus of the University of Washington in the county’s north end.
A branch campus, however, is not what’s wanted by State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, or County Executive Aaron Reardon, also a Democrat. According to Kevin Hulton, a legislative aide to Sen. Hobbs who addressed the council on Tuesday, they don’t want an institution that would “be beholden to Seattle.”
“The university we build will have to cater to local business,” Hulton said, adding that the school should cater to the aerospace and biotech industries, as well as the military, for example. “We have the funding. Why not go for the ultimate goal? Why settle?”
Councilman Dale Hensley, who has worked in higher education for more than 30 years, questioned whether a university with a technical emphasis would truly serve the students of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties.
“My problem with the proposal for a polytechnic university is that it won’t serve Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties with that emphasis,” said Hensley, pointing out low scores on the math and science portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test. “It’s a very worthwhile goal, but with a polytechnic focus it’s going to serve a lot of students, but not from this county.”
Also speaking to the council on Tuesday was chancellor Steve Olswang from the University of Washington, Bothell about what a branch campus in north Everett or Marysville could bring to the county. A branch campus has been publicly supported by state Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.
“I’m not here to recommend one form or another,” Olswang said. “The university is not opposed to a new four-year school. The question is what is most logical. To start a four-year college from scratch you have to set up a lot of infrastructure, like payroll systems and staff. If we don’t spend money building an entity, we can spend the money on students.”
Olswang’s position convinced councilwoman Mary Kay Voss, who admitted she came into the meeting expecting to support a new four-year college, but was not impressed with Hulton’s presentation and found his arguments “unconvincing.”
Hensley, meanwhile, said he didn’t support either proposal because four-year degree options exist in Snohomish County. He cited programs run by Central and Western Washington universities that allow residents to earn a four-year degree at local community colleges, like Everett and Edmonds.
“My opposition is that the need is trumped up,” he said. “We don’t have the critical mass to make it happen.”
Councilman Mark Bond also had suspicions, asking aloud “who’s going to get the plaque” in a new college building.
“There’s probably motivations on both sides other than the students,” he said.
Nonetheless, when a straw poll was taken later in Tuesday’s meeting, a majority of council members leaned toward a branch campus of the University of Washington. The city will draw a resolution supporting that position that will likely come for a vote at the Tuesday, April 10 meeting.