Monday, May 16, 2011

Governor signs bill to expand baccalaureate opportunities in North Puget Sound region

Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed legislation aimed at expanding higher education opportunities for residents of north Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties by placing a research university in charge of the existing University Center of North Puget Sound in Everett.
Subject to a needs review by the HECB, 2SSB 5636 lays out a plan to expand baccalaureate and graduate program access in the region by assigning administration of the university center to Washington State University by July 1, 2014. Everett Community College currently administers the center, which serves as a hub for academic programs offered by several public and private institutions.
The Legislature finds it is imperative for the state’s global competitiveness and economic prosperity to provide skilled undergraduate and graduate degree engineers for the aerospace industry, which is a major employer in the region.    
The Legislature also concluded that the long-range goal of greatly expanding access to a wide array of baccalaureate and graduate programs could best be accomplished by assigning the responsibility of administering the university center to a research university such as WSU.
“This is for all the young people in my community who have not had the opportunity to acquire a four-year degree simply because they live too far from our existing schools,” Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano Island, the prime sponsor of 2SSB 5636, said in a statement after the Senate approved House changes to the bill on April 21. “Too many generations have been deprived of the educational opportunities enjoyed by other Washingtonians.”
The law establishing the new center requires the HECB first to determine if it needs to conduct an assessment of student and market demand in the area as required by the System Design law passed in 2010. Previous HECB studies have singled out this region of the state as being under-served in terms of access to bachelor’s and graduate degree programs.  
Once the needs assessment issue is resolved, the new law directs that a coordinating and planning council be formed to conduct long-range and strategic planning for the center, to promote institutional and community collaboration, and to resolve disputes. Representatives from WSU, Everett Community College, and other institutions offering degree programs at the center, and community leaders and students will participate.
Before WSU can assume leadership of the center, it must establish an engineering program at the center, and the council must submit a strategic plan to the Legislature for meeting the academic needs of the region. The plan must be submitted by December 1, 2012, but will be considered approved if the Legislature does not take further action on it during the 2013 session.

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