That little school out on the Salmon Creek prairie seemed to grow in a flash, when measured in terms of ordinary academic development. In just about three decades, Washington State University Vancouver has grown from infancy to adulthood: 13 buildings on 351 acres; almost 3,000 students guided by a faculty that includes 140 Ph.D.s; and almost 10,000 alumni, three-fourths of whom live in Southwest Washington. WSU Vancouver now offers 19 bachelor's, nine master's and two doctorate degrees, with courses in 37 fields of study.
Pretty impressive, for such a relatively short period. But one popular piece of the puzzle has been missing. Jane Cote, director of the university's College of Business, recently said the hospitality business management degree is "the number one, most-requested business major that we currently are not offering." When the slightest hint of such a degree has surfaced in the community, "my phone would start ringing. From students to industry leaders, there is excitement about this program."
Yes, the puzzle piece is falling into place, starting in the fall with WSU Vancouver's first courses leading to a hospitality business management degree. It's another sign that the local university is not only growing, but diversifying. This new degree will lead to management jobs in hotels, restaurants, convention centers, sports facilities, entertainment services and senior-living centers. Graduates will work in purchasing, publicity, hiring and training, catering management and economic forecasts of the industry.
Credit WSU officials with flexibility in implementing the hospitality business management degree. The program actually was approved by the Board of Regents seven years ago, and we all know what happened to the economy at that point. The nation's worst economic crisis in seven decades convinced WSU to postpone the hospitality business management degree in Vancouver. But now that the economic recovery is gaining momentum, WSU Vancouver has responded and will be ready when family spending on travel hits full speed, and when business travel also reinvigorates the hospitality industry.
Credit also is due the Tod and Maxine McClaskey Foundation, the source of a $675,000 gift that will fund a five-year fellowship to establish the new program. Tod McClaskey and partner Ed Pietz in 1959 bought Portland's Thunderbird Motor Inn and made it the launch pad for the Thunderbird-Red Lion hotel chain, which they sold in 1984.
One of the most attractive features of the new degree at WSU Vancouver is the wide array of partnerships that will be created with local businesses. Degree requirements include 1,000 hours of internship experience. Or, as Cote explained, "bringing the classroom to the community and the community to the classroom." That means local hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses -- whose leaders helped persuade WSU Vancouver officials to offer the new degree -- will benefit from adding interns to their workforces.
It's also encouraging how other areas of the local College of Business -- small-business consulting, accounting and professional sales -- will be incorporated into the hospitality business management degree.
Congratulations to WSU Vancouver for expanding its offerings in ways that not only increase access to higher education, but also contribute to the economic development of our community and Southwest Washington.