Washington State University is developing another branch campus to feed a workforce need, this time in Everett.
The focus of the campus is science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education. It will serve the large number of Boeing workers in Snohomish County.
“It’s the most populous county west of the Mississippi without a four-year institution,” said Colleen Kerr, WSU’s vice president for external affairs and government relations. “There are a lot of people associated with Boeing who need the access to higher education.”
The state appropriated $10 million for WSU to develop a 95,000-square-foot University Center where most of the STEM programs will be housed. The university’s board of regents gave the go-ahead Friday to buy land and make hires for the facility’s design and pre-construction. The evolving model resembles WSU Spokane’s campus, where multiple colleges offer health sciences programs.
WSU first will take over management of the satellite programs offered by a consortium of colleges, which are currently housed and managed by Everett Community College. The university started a mechanical engineering program there this fall. Electrical engineering, hospitality/business management and communications programs will be added in September 2014.
“I don’t think that those three new programs would be coming about if they (WSU) weren’t taking a leadership role,” said Sandra Fowler-Hill, executive vice president of instructor and student services at Everett Community College.
She added, “We are real excited about the options that are going to be available to our students. We are also seeing more interest from our community college students about getting a baccalaureate degree they never thought was possible.”
By 2021, the goal is to have 26 degree offerings in the new University Center. The new building will be located across the street from the community college.
Everett leaders are eager for WSU to develop a presence in the community.
“A lot of Boeing’s engineers are coming close to retirement, and the company could go anywhere to get new ones,” said Pat McClain, the city of Everett’s director of government affairs. “Our feeling is if we don’t replace that pipeline, our kids, our grandkids will be left out.”
State lawmakers and Everett leaders first approached the University of Washington in 2007 on plans for a university center in Everett – less than an hour north of the university’s main campus.
“What we came up with was a need, and we could build a campus, but it would be expensive,” said Norm Arkans, UW spokesman. Political bickering about whether the new facility should be located in Marysville or Everett caused the first wrinkle. Additionally, UW had no interest in slowly building a branch campus, and the state – faced with a severe budget shortfall – didn’t seem interested in funding such a facility immediately.
UW backed out, and Everett’s mayor called WSU President Elson Floyd. The state transferred authority from UW to WSU in 2011.
“We did not ask for this building. It was given to us,” said WSU’s Kerr.
WSU thinks it’s a good fit for the university, however. “This is a reflection of our land grant mission, to fuel the state’s economy by filling the workforce needs,” she said. “We work in communities where they have either workforce or research needs.”