Washington State University’s first day of school Monday may have been eclipsed by other cosmic events, but students at the Vancouver campus returned nonetheless for the 2017-2018 school year.
And with it came hints of change for the university, where enrollment is expected to increase in yet another year, continuing a trend.
Campus spokeswoman Brenda Alling pointed to several construction projects on the horizon at the Salmon Creek campus.
Vancouver Public Schools, after the approval of its $458 million bond measure earlier this year, is slated to break ground on its Vancouver iTech Preparatory school campus. The building will be on about 5 acres — leased to the school district for $1 a year — northeast of the main WSU Vancouver campus.
Construction is projected to begin in June 2018, according to VPS’ website. The iTech middle school campus is currently at 2901 Falk Rd., in Vancouver, while high school students attend classes at the Clark College building at WSU Vancouver.
The school is also poised to begin discussion on student housing on campus — a shift for the commuter school, a satellite of the main WSU Pullman campus. But students year over year provide feedback asking for housing, especially as apartments in Clark County have become more scarce and more expensive, Alling said.
“Students are desperate for housing with the rental market being as tight as it is,” Alling said.
But, Alling said, breaking ground on dormitories or apartments is still a long way off for the school. The school is not zoned for student housing, meaning WSU will have to work with Clark County to rezone the property to allow such a building. A committee will review the school’s master plan to determine if housing is feasible.
“I can’t guarantee we’re going to say, ‘Yes, we’re moving forward, we’re building dorms,’ ” she said. “But we want to answer that question.”
The school could also begin early planning on a new life sciences building, but that’s dependent on the approval of a state capital budget. The budget was blocked by Senate Republicans after an impasse on action on the state Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, though Gov. Jay Inslee has urged the Legislature to come to a solution so the state construction budget can move forward. The project is on hold with $500,000 in state money tied up in the capital budget.
The coming construction is a sign that WSU Vancouver is a “huge asset” to the business community in the region, Alling said.
“I think it says we are a valued community partner and growth is expected of us and growth is what we’ll deliver,” Alling said. “We want to continue to increase the baccalaureate rate in Southwest Washington.”
The school will also add three degree programs this year: a bachelor’s in strategic communication, a bachelor’s in math and a master’s in electrical engineering, Alling said.
Enrollment data won’t be available until later in the term, but Alling said the campus is expected to grow over last year. WSU Vancouver broke enrollment records with 3,426 students last fall, up 121 students from the previous fall.