Leaders and professors at Washington State University Vancouver have consistently kept the institution performing rather precociously, growing and maturing more rapidly than what is typically seen at other universities.
Well, the Salmon Creek campus is 17 years old now — approaching the age of many of its students — and it's time to start thinking adult thoughts, like young folks leaving home and living near the college campus.
You might be surprised to learn that officials at the relatively young WSUV already are researching ways to launch a student housing program, possibly as early as the fall 2014 semester. That fast-paced pursuit is tempered by the lack of any confirmed funding of such a project.
Nevertheless, the university is commendably moving forward, requesting proposals for a master lease deal for 40 to 100 student apartment units. As Cami Joner reported in Wednesday's Columbian, local developers Dean Kirkland and Tom Files have expressed preliminary interest in the university's proposal as their Northeast 134th Street Lofts complex is being planned near the campus at Interstate 205.
This move by WSUV makes good sense for several reasons:
Student housing would elevate WSUV to a well-deserved spot in higher education in the Pacific Northwest, if not alongside the upper crust of higher education institutions, then at least with a new capacity to attract first-year students who are wanting to live away from home.
This new dimension could encourage many students not only to enroll at WSUV but remain there through graduation. As WSUV Vice Chancellor Lynn Valenter was quoted in the story: "Research shows better retention of students who have a residential experience tied to their university."
By offering housing opportunities, WSUV could augment its recruiting not only of four-year students but graduate students as well.
The request for proposal is creatively crafted so that it could appeal to many different developers. That sets up the student housing program as not only a broadly competitive venture, but an attraction to multiple construction firms.
Adding student housing to WSUV would positively impact the local economy in other ways, especially around Salmon Creek. Students from other parts of Southwest Washington would become local residents, with shorter commutes. They would be more apt to spend money here.
WSUV officials are thinking beyond this student-housing request for proposal. A three-to-five-year growth plan also includes on-campus housing, dormitories in the traditional sense. As the off-campus program stands now, it's uncertain if the apartment units would each have kitchens, or if communal dining will be offered. The off-campus complex would have resident assistants managing the units and organizing social activities.
Again, we see WSUV leaders ahead of the curve. It's not surprising, but it's an encouraging affirmation that our local university — young by so many other comparative standards — is moving closer to the big leagues when it comes to higher education.