WSUV’s future being shaped

As enrollment climbs, officials look at academic plan

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter



As Washington State University Vancouver expands its programs, will it add physical sciences or fine arts? Communication fields or education programs? Community service fields or advanced degrees in engineering disciplines? Or is there need and market demand for all of the above?

Envisioning new programs and degrees requires more scientific surveys than gazing into a crystal ball. WSU Vancouver officials are working on a long-range plan to determine which new programs and projects will be offered on the campus in the future.

At the helm of the academic planning process are Renny Christopher, vice chancellor of academic affairs at WSUV, and Sal Rinella, a research consultant with Penson Associates from Palm Desert, Calif. Both have led universities through this process before.

“We’re looking at a larger vision for the whole campus. An overall holistic view of how the campus will move forward,” Christopher said.

Since starting work at WSUV in August, Christopher has rolled up her sleeves to tackle the academic planning process. At her previous position as associate provost at California State University Channel Islands, Christopher played an integral part in the number of programs more than doubling during her 11 years at the satellite campus.

WSU Vancouver, also a satellite campus, currently has about 3,000 students, but by the end of the decade, enrollment is projected to reach 6,000 students.

“This academic planning process will help determine the rate of that growth and projections for future growth,” she said.

At on Oct. 1 brainstorming session,faculty and staff members came up with “a really long list of programs,” Christopher said.

Christopher wants to answer these questions: What’s the university going to look like five years from now? Ten years from now? How are the degree programs going to be delivered? What hybrid models will be used?

The academic planning team will consider the demand for programs, whether courses can be shared by multiple programs and the physical space, equipment and faculty required to offer new programs.

Consultant Rinella has helped a dozen or more universities “figure out where do we go from here?”

In conducting a market study, he’s visited the career counselors at Columbia River, Camas and Kelso high schools.

“They speak to students and parents at the emergent stage” of planning college and career paths, he said.

In the next few weeks, he’ll survey Clark College students to determine which bachelor and graduate degrees they plan to pursue.

He said he’ll talk with key employers in the region from the business sector and the nonprofit sector to find out what kinds of workers they predict they’ll be hiring.

Assessing needs

The research also will consider competition from universities in a 50-mile radius, Rinella said. They will consider which programs are offered by competing universities and whether the market allows for WSUV to add a program that’s already available in the metro area.

Although the campus already offers all levels of nursing programs, Christopher said, the team will consider what in-demand health programs are needed and sustainable on the campus. For instance, a Master of Public Heath degree is offered at Oregon Health & Science University and at Portland State University. The feasibility study will look at students’ plans for pursuing certain careers as well as employment projections forthose fields. After a careful study, the academic planning team may determine that the market could not sustain a Master of Public Health program at WSUV.

“We need to consider what’s going to cause those students to come to us over any other school,” Christopher said.

Because WSU Vancouver is a research university, the planning team also will consider potential opportunities for collaborative research projects by students and faculty in multiple departments, Christopher said.

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