Believe it or not, Washington State University Vancouver is older than many of its students. Older than Skyview, Heritage, and Union high schools. Even older than the debate over the Columbia River Crossing, which only felt like it lasted a quarter-century.
WSUV turns 25 years old this year, and while that is relatively adolescent in university years, Southwest Washington's only four-year college continues to stride toward maturity. This year, the school has more than 3,000 students on its 351-acre campus in the Salmon Creek area while offering studies in 20 undergraduate and 11 graduate majors. That reflects robust growth since WSUV's infancy, when the school was housed on the Clark College campus. The Salmon Creek campus opened 18 years ago, and development has been steady since then.
To recognize those 25 years, administrators organized a flag-waving extravaganza last week as students returned to campus. It should be mentioned that flag-waving is a matter of particular pride for Cougars; WSU supporters are known for getting their flag on ESPN's football preview — "College Gameday" — each week, whether the featured game is in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Columbus, Ohio, or any other place across the country. WSUV also is planning a celebration Saturday on campus, inviting the public to enjoy live music, campus tours, and tastings of Cougar Gold cheese. For more information, go to www.vancouver.wsu.edu/25.
But while 25 years in the education business is a milestone worth noting, the impact of WSUV goes beyond mere numbers. As Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, a graduate of the WSU campus in Pullman, told Columbian reporter Susan Parrish: "How convenient it would have been for this Vancouver boy to attend college at this beautiful campus. The growth of this campus has been phenomenal."
Unlike Leavitt, modern graduates of local high schools needn't leave home to pursue higher education. That fact has made a four-year degree more affordable and more attainable for countless students. It also has expanded the pool of qualified employees for local businesses, which is reflected in the university's clever marketing slogan: "Stay close. Go far."
The economic impact of a high-level college on a local economy is difficult to overstate. It helps prevent the brain drain of high-achieving students leaving the area following high school; it helps facilitate growth by providing qualified workers; and it helps keep money in the area as students remain close for their college years. As a 2004 study by Annette Steinacker at Claremont Graduate University found, "It is clear that even small campuses can play a very strong economic role in their hometowns."
College campuses also play a strong role in the vitality of a city, contributing to a youthful exuberance that few other institutions can match.
For WSUV, that role has been growing for a quarter-century. The campus continues to add buildings and increase enrollment, and in 2006 it started offering classes for freshmen and sophomores after years of serving only upper-division students. The question now is where the college goes from here.
One of the primary factors in future growth will be the establishment of on-campus housing, a development that is being considered. For now, WSUV remains a commuter school, but as The Columbian has written editorially, "Student housing would elevate WSUV to a well-deserved spot in higher education in the Pacific Northwest." Sooner or later, that will happen — just another step in the maturation of Vancouver's four-year college.