In Our View: Pride Abounds at WSUV

Branch campus’ influence grows in Southwest Washington

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Did you know ?

■ WSU has offered classes in Southwest Washington since 1983.

■ More than 3,000 students were enrolled at WSU Vancouver this spring, the most of any of the university’s three branch campuses.

■ Public facilities on the Salmon Creek campus include more than six miles of bicycle and pedestrian trails.

Saturday is the biggest day of the year for Washington State University Vancouver. Several thousand people will crowd into the Sleep Country Amphitheater for the 2012 commencement ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m. The happiest surely will be the record 979 graduates, including nine doctoral degree candidates and 121 master’s candidates.But even people who rarely set foot on campus reap the benefit of having a university in our community. In the 20-plus years it has served Southwest Washington, WSU has produced more than 9,500 alumni, 75 percent of whom remain in the area.

The branch campus was set up originally to serve older, place-bound students who had completed some college but didn’t have a reasonable path to finish their degree. That mission has since been expanded, and WSU Vancouver finds itself with a mix of younger and older students. Women still outnumber the men, 57 percent to 43 percent.

The students can choose among more than 37 fields of study, and earn any of 18 different bachelor’s, nine master’s and two doctoral degrees. Many are aimed directly at the best jobs being created in the area, such as electrical engineering or digital media and culture.

All this is remarkable progress for a young institution. The university has held classes in Vancouver since 1983, but WSU Vancouver was established in 1989, and the Salmon Creek campus didn’t open until 1996. The campus has 14 buildings now, including the $43.5 million, four-story, 56,000-square-foot Engineering and Computer Science building that opened for classes this semester. The next big capital project is a health and sciences building, estimated to cost $51.2 million. The university will ask for $100,000 in preliminary funding in the state’s 2015-17 capital budget, with design funding two years later and construction funding in 2019-21. A $4.6 million library expansion is also on the books for 2017-19.

The demand for growth continues. Though the university will ask next year’s Legislature for $5.4 million to expand enrollment at all campuses, there is no guarantee the money will be received. Meanwhile, Southwest Washington continues to lack college enrollment slots compared with other regions of the state. One telling statistic is that WSUV was budgeted by the state to enroll the equivalent of 2,113 full-time students this school year. But the actual enrollment ended up about 350 FTEs more, or 16.5 percent more than the state budgeted. The notion that a college degree is important obviously resonates here in Southwest Washington as we struggle to free ourselves from the Great Recession.

Tuition is a growing problem. As state support for higher education dwindles, WSU and other state universities have looked to students to take on more of the cost. Tuition was $9,374 this year, and will go up 16 percent to $10,874 next year.

Saturday is a day of celebration for graduates who are marking a personal milestone. But it’s important to realize these personal successes add up to an important public achievement of boosting our region’s work force, economy and way of life.