Baby steps toward baccalaureatesBY AMY CODISPOTI | JOURNAL REPORTER Snohomish County is inching closer to having a four-year university within its boundaries.
On Feb. 5, the state Senate Higher Education Committee approved a bill that would ultimately create a comprehensive university with a polytechnic focus and liberal arts options for the Snohomish, Skagit and Island Counties.
“Monday’s approval allows us to start answering questions of when, where and how, but we’re still at the very preliminary stages of planning,” said Representative Hans Dunshee.
“Every step is a small victory,” said Senator Jean Berkey, who introduced the bill with Senator Paul Shin. “I look forward to a frank and open discussion on the Senate floor.”
The committee’s vote firmly supported the concept of an independent university as opposed to the plan proposed by the University of Washington, which would implement an UW affiliate college.
The proposal for an independent new state college has come under scrutiny from some, including the University of Washington, which outright opposes a new state college. Representative Hans Dunshee said he would support either option.
“But, I think we’d get more value with a UW extension university,” he explained. “They are one of the top ten universities in the nation and we’d have more success recruiting professors and students.”
Everyone supporting the bill agrees there is a real need for a university in the area.
According the Higher Education Coordinating Board, Snohomish County’s resident higher education participation rates are currently among the lowest in the state.
A $500,000 study conducted last year determined that even if existing universities and colleges expand, an approximate 18, 000 students would be unable to get four-year degrees by 2025.
Those sponsoring the bill hope that the new university would not only help increase the number of students able to obtain their four-year degree in that time-span, but help meet the ever increasing demand for high-tech employees throughout the state.
“If we want to attract and keep high-tech business in Washington, we must ensure that our educational system produces the best and the brightest,” Berkey said. “A new university, placed in a region with tremendous job growth, is the best way to meet that need.”
Gov. Christine Gregoire has allocated $2million dollars of the 2007-2008 budget toward expanding baccalaureate options in the three-country region, and is waiting for the Legislature’s direction.
The committee decided to ask Gregoire for 31 million dollars in the next biennial budget to purchase land and cover other expenses related to building the new university. Currently, consultants are recommending a 300 acre site and possible locations include Everett, Marysville, Arlington and Stanwood.
If all goes according to plan, the university would open in four years on a small scale, expanding to 8,000 students by 2025.