Friday, March 11, 2011

HECB review would be required prior to proposed Everett center changes

Two companion bills that passed the House and Senate recently could lead to expanded higher education opportunities in the north Puget Sound area, and provide a new administrator for the region’s existing university center – but only after the HECB makes a determination about the need for the changes.
Under 2SSB 5636 and E2SHB 1792, administration of the University Center of North Puget Sound would be transferred from Everett Community College, where the center is physically located, to Washington State University.  The Senate version of the bill, which was passed by a 39 to 9 vote, has been scheduled for an 8 a.m. hearing Wednesday, March 16, in the House Higher Education Committee.
The bills, which address the long-range goal of expanded access to baccalaureate and graduate education in the North Snohomish, Island, and Skagit county region, are based on criteria identified in System Design legislation passed by the Legislature in 2010. Assigning the responsibility for developing the center to a research university such as WSU would appear to strengthen the chance of success for the initiative.
The proposed legislation would require WSU and Everett Community College to collaborate with community leaders and other institutions that offer programs at the center to serve the varied interests of students in the region.
Amendments to the bills would make the legislation contingent upon a needs assessment by the HECB, which is required under the System Design legislation. That law requires that major expansions of the higher education system first undergo an HECB review to determine if there is demonstrated student demand for the expansion.
A coordinating and planning council would be established to develop a plan for meeting the region’s higher education needs. Among other things, the plan would address employer needs for skilled workers in high demand areas, with a special emphasis on undergraduate and graduate engineering programs, including aeronautical engineering.  Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish and Rep. Mike Hope of Lake Stevens, two sponsors of the House version of the bill, co-authored an op-ed piece in last Saturday’s (Everett) Herald that argued for establishing an aeronautical program in Everett.
Improving access to higher education in the north Puget Sound region is an issue with a long history.  In 1997, the Legislature established a consortium of higher education institutions to work on improving educational opportunities in the region, and in 2005 Everett Community College was given management responsibilities over the new center.
Today the center offers on-line and in-class courses from WSU, Western Washington University, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, The Evergreen State College, Hope International University, St. Martin’s University and University of Washington – Bothell.

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