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University center could fill higher education gap
Covington leaders want to bring higher education opportunities to the city and are learning about the best way to do so.
A group of city staff and representatives from local technical and community colleges visited the University Center of North Puget Sound Sept. 5. Started more than a decade ago, the University Center partners with eight public and private universities to offer programs in an area which was previously underserved.
Gretchen Rowe, associate dean of University Center, provided the visitors from southeast King County with a wealth of information about the institution followed by a question and answer session during which Covington City Manager Derek Matheson filled everyone in on the city’s history as well as sought suggestions and advice, along with others in the visiting group, about what would be the best way to pursue a similar concept in Covington.
Then Rowe and other staff for the institution, also known as UC Everett, showed them around the building on the Everett Community College campus.
There are computer labs, classrooms, offices, common areas where students can gather to talk or work on projects, and so on. Western Washington University is UC Everett’s largest partner, offering the most courses and degree programs, but Central Washington and Washington State universities also have a strong presence. Students can pursue bachelor’s or master’s degrees through University of Washington-Bothell, The Evergreen State College, Saint Martin’s University, Eastern Washington and Hope International University.
Programs range from mechanical engineering to teacher certification to nursing to business administration to social work. A total of 25 degrees are offered on campus, online and through hybrid courses.
Students can do an associate’s degree at the community college then transfer to one of the UC Everett programs to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Technology plays a significant part in course content delivery. Instructors, for example, can be in Pullman or Lacey or Bellingham while the students could be in Everett or another location, but thanks to cameras and high speed Internet connections they can come together to learn. Rowe noted that courses taught that way are also recorded so students who miss a class can watch later or it can be revisited if a student wants to review what was covered in that session.
The visit took about two hours and for Matheson, it was another in a series of baby steps toward bringing a wide range of higher education options to Covington which could help fill a gap in southeast King County and northeast Pierce County.
“I was very impressed by the University Center of North Puget Sound,” Matheson wrote in an email interview Sept. 5. “I’m becoming more and more convinced that the university center concept is our best avenue to bring college—and university—level courses to Covington. I was very pleased that our community-technical college partners think we’re on the right track in terms of possibly asking the Legislature for a ‘needs assessment’ of higher education in Covington and Southeast King County. This is the same approach UC Everett used during its formation about 10 years ago.”
UC Everett is one of seven such centers across the country and the only one in Washington state. It started offering classes in 2002 at the Everett Transit Station before moving to the ECC campus in 2009 where it will be until at least 2016. According to information provided by Rowe, the cost savings of a two plus two program — two years of community college then transferring to a program at UC Everett — saves close to $8,500 over a regional university, more than $14,000 over a state research university and nearly $50,000 compared to an in-state private institution.
While there are many elements of the university center concept Covington could emulate, there are other elements that would be different.
“We learned that UC Everett was located off-campus in downtown Everett before it moved to the Everett Community College campus,” Matheson wrote. “UC Everett felt there were pros and cons to the off-campus location. Since our proposed university center would be located in Covington Town Center, we would need to design it to maximize the pros and minimize the cons of an off-campus location.”
Next up, Matheson wrote, is to develop the education needs assessment funding request, finalize the city’s legislative agenda then build a coalition to support the request when it is before the state Legislature.
Bringing colleges to Covington is an idea which first came up in 2010. The city worked with MultiCare to develop a plan to bring higher education here with health care as the hook. But that concept has broadened considerably since then. Green River worked with the Covington Chamber of Commerce to develop what they called an interest scan, Matheson told the Reporter in August, to determine what kinds of classes residents would be interested. Based on the responses Green River started offering courses at City Hall last fall. In the meantime, Renton Technical partnered with the Kent School District to offer the Medical Career Pathways program at Kentlake High School.
Matheson wrote the city will consider all that.
“I expect the needs assessment will take into account current higher education opportunities in Covington and Southeast King County, including current partnerships between community-technical colleges and school districts, and start to identify gaps in degrees and perhaps the institutions that could offer those degrees,” Matheson said.