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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Caldwell: Spokane’s higher-ed grades improving

Spokane is not at the forefront of higher education. Lack of a major research institution has consistently been called a weakness as community officials assemble a 21st-century information-based economic curriculum.

But the results of two studies released last week suggest the city may be close to earning a midterm “B.” In fact, it may be uniquely blessed.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal published a survey of recruiters whose companies last year hired 43,000 graduates. They were asked to rate student academic skills and readiness for the workplace. The results favored big state universities because budget-conscious recruiters get more sheepskin per dollar in State College, Pa., home of Pennsylvania State University, than in, say, Moscow, Idaho.

So Penn State topped the rankings, followed by Texas A&M, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue and Arizona State.

And, tying for the 25th spot was Washington State University, with a student body among the smallest for schools that ranked so high.

Susan Poch, acting director for the Center for Advising and Career Development, says the unexpected news had the Pullman campus buzzing and her staff eating a celebratory cake delivered by university President Elson Floyd.

Floyd issued a statement saying he was gratified employers share his high regard for WSU students and their preparation for the workplace.

Poch said recognition by the Journal creates new opportunities to increase awareness of WSU among employers, as well as alumni and benefactors.

“We knew we do good work, but we didn’t know the (survey) was going on,” said Poch, who attributed the university’s success to two decades of building close relationships with employers who must go out of their way to get to the Palouse.

She said the center helps students prepare resumes and conducts mock job interviews. University departments hold lunches for recruiters, and some faculty allow recruiters to meet with their classes, a common practice, according to the Journal.

A website where companies can post job openings and students their resumes is particularly helpful, Poch says.

Next month, she says, the university will hold a job fair that will bring in 150 employers. Various colleges within the university hold separate fairs.

Some of those events are in conjunction with the University of Idaho, which was not among the 100 universities recruiters were asked to assess but was among 31 campuses that received at least five votes anyway. Not bad for a write-in candidate.

The University of Washington turned up an “A” grade Thursday in an evaluation by the Times of London, which ranked universities around the world based on teaching and research. The result: UW finished 23rd overall and 16th among American universities, with influential research weighing most heavily in the university’s favor.

All of their achievements clearly accrue to the home campuses. But WSU and UW do share the premises at Riverpoint. As the Spokane campus continues to fill out with faculty and students of both, particularly in health sciences, and Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and the Community Colleges of Spokane augment their presences downtown, the community can more readily capitalize on the recruitment and research opportunities.

Midterm grades are OK, but in the real world the finals are every day.

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