Washington State University Vancouver was established in Southwest Washington in 1989 with great purpose, and dare we say, foresight. The citizens in this region asked for access to higher education and continue to benefit from having a growing university nearby.
A recent study published by the University of Pennsylvania criticizes higher education in the state of Washington. The study found that due to limited resources, the institutions of higher education in our state do not produce enough bachelor’s degrees, forcing employers to hire workers from out of state — and from out of country.
That’s the precise problem WSU Vancouver has been tackling right here in our own community for 23 years. The university’s full-time equivalent enrollment has increased 82 percent from fall 2005 to fall 2011. Nearly 3,200 students are taking classes spring semester. Today there are more than 9,500 WSU Vancouver alumni, 75 percent of whom remain in our community to live, work and raise their families. These alumni are direct contributors to the economic fiber of Southwest Washington.
And we have no intention of stopping.
The state’s economy is one of the most technology-intensive in the nation. The Penn researchers say that by 2018, 67 percent of all jobs in Washington will require workers who have at least some postsecondary education or training. OK, bring it on.
In January WSU Vancouver opened a new Engineering and Computer Science building — thanks in large part to the unwavering support of state and local elected officials and the community at large. The grand opening may be in our rear-view mirror, but the support keeps rolling in. The Clark County High Tech Council, Columbia Credit Union and Tektronix have voted with their dollars. Each has supported research laboratories and programs in the School of Engineering and Computer Science because they understand the need for well-educated, high-tech graduates in our community, and they believe in WSU Vancouver’s ability to fulfill that need. We won’t let you down.
We do not stop with engineers. WSU Vancouver graduates students who serve the largest industry sectors in Portland/Southwest Washington including health and education services and the largest employers, including Evergreen Public Schools and PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center. We currently offer 18 bachelor’s degrees, nine master’s degrees and two doctoral degrees. Cougar “paw prints” are all over this community.
If we had one wish it would be that you embrace the benefits of living near a university. WSU Vancouver offers a huge assortment of services to this community. On Jan. 22 WSU Vancouver hosted College Goal Sunday. This national program offers students interested in any form of postsecondary education an opportunity to come to campus and get free help from financial aid experts in filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The FAFSA is the gateway to accessing financial aid resources such as federal and state grants, school loans and scholarships. Our event is not only the largest in the state, it is also the only College Goal Sunday event offered in three languages — English, Russian and Spanish.
The issues raised by the University of Pennsylvania study are real ones. We need more higher education access and capacity. We need to produce more of the engineering and high-tech graduates that Tektronix, Boeing and other high-tech companies in our community and in our state need to thrive.
WSU Vancouver is the only four-year, public research institution in Southwest Washington and we are committed to expanding regional access to baccalaureate- and master’s-level degrees. We look forward to being a key partner in solving this problem for our community and beyond.
Lynn Valenter is interim chancellor at WSU Vancouver. Steve Horenstein is chair of the WSU Vancouver Campus Advisory Council.