Chamber hears pitch for branch campus
August 28, 2008 · Updated 10:43 AM
TULALIP The only thing becoming clear to state education officials vetting four sites for a new University of Washington branch campus in Snohomish County is that nothing is clear, or finished, until the state Legislature says so.
And while the location of that new college hasnt been determined, a UW leader said its becoming very clear that classes at the new technical institution will be far different than in the past.
Former UW president Lee Huntsman spoke to the Greater Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 26, where he said experiential learning will be the way students are taught the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, and local industries will help shape and deliver the lesson plans.
In addition to trying to raise the percentage of high school graduates who go onto college, Huntsman said a team of consultants is trying to find the right mix of businesses who will provide opportunities for a capstone to their accumulation of credits. That would include internships and service learning opportunities as well as focusing on team-based projects of great depth.
When I went to college you went to class, Huntsman said.
That will change at the new institution, which will provide students who can hit the ground running. Students in the past hit the books but might not have learned to interact with their peers as well as they should have. Now employers are reporting increased productivity with students who have a well-rounded background.
This is absolutely terrific for students, Huntsman said. It dramatically improved their ability to do a job and contribute immediately.
While the cities of Marysville, Lake Stevens and Everett are vying to host the campus, Huntsman said the real work his team is pursuing is to establish the academic plan the college would offer, while looking at the available sites. One of the important issues consultants are evaluating are the needs of students and businesses for technically-trained graduates who will interact with industry before they graduate.
Thats important because the state of Washington lags far behind others in the academic offerings, according to Huntsman. The state has one of the highest percentages of citizens with four-year college degrees but is near the bottom in offering resources for students; ranking 48th of the 50 states in access to four-year colleges. The state ranks fifth in access to two-year programs, however.
We import a lot of people with advanced educations, Huntsman said. This is especially true in the technical fields.
Despite having several industries that rely on highly-educated engineers such as the aerospace and software businesses, Washington is 38th in access to engineering programs. The state could triple the number of engineers trained in state and still not cover the number of workers employed each year, Huntsman added.
A panel of experts working on a report to the legislature will make their recommendations next month, but the last time a branch campus was built the politicians ignored the experts choice and chose another site, according to Deb Merle, higher education advisor to Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Merle noted that when the UW Bothell campus was built a 100-acre golf course in the hills near Woodinville was the top choice of a panel of consultants, but the state legislature chose the Truly Farm site at the SR 522/I-405 interchange.
So all the jockeying and lobbying happening now may be for naught. Huntsman acknowledged the potential for a political contest when a site is chosen, but that pales in comparison to what he called the elephant in the room; the struggle to fund higher education in the state. Adding another campus will only split the financial pie more ways with no more means, and Huntsman said his peers at other institutions in the state are determined not to expand by thinning the soup, i.e. by watering down the quality and content of a college education.
Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall said his city was primed to offer such partnerships for the new college. He assembled a team of city administrators who listed the advantages of a cluster of sites near Smokey Point the state is evaluating for the new college. The city emphasized many partnerships available nearby and Kendall said the site offers the best travel time for students commuting from Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties. The city prepared aerial photographs with the names and locations of at least 28 businesses near the proposed Smokey Point site to drive the point home. Kendall noted there will be 10,000 technical jobs in the area as businesses occupy the flat land stretching north to the Arlington city limits, all zoned for light industry.
We know this is going to be a world-class facility, Kendall said. We know this is the best site.
A pair of locations in Everett are also being considered, as well as a 100-acre plot in Lake Stevens, but the trio of Marysville sites comprise 378 acres and would offer recreational and housing opportunities, according to speakers from the Marysville Public Works and Community Development departments. Community Development Director Gloria Hiroshima said the Marysville area has 120,000- square-feet of space available to host a temporary campus.
Tulalip Tribal member Anita Rutherford asked if the campus, temporary or otherwise, could be up and running in time for her freshman to attend. Huntsman said he hopes to get a temporary campus running soon, but any campus will only be able to take upperclass students transferring in from community colleges at first.
Your kids, theres a chance, Huntsman said. I doubt it.
Tulalip Resort Hotel Vice President Brett Magnan asked how planners could consider sites as small as 25 acres when most new high schools need a footprint of at least 50 acres. Merle noted the UW Tacoma campus started with only 15 acres and now occupies 46 acres. All four sites being considered can host a campus, but the 31-acre Everett site would have to grow, Merle added.
A trio of panels is evaluating the final sites out of 84 submitted to the state. The three sites in Marysville were submitted by individual owners but are being considered as one since they are contiguous.
Recommendations are due to the governors office by Nov. 15 and then the ball is in the legislatures court.