In Our View: WSUV Will Need Housing

Commuter college isn’t quite there yet but should be thinking long term



Even as it nears 30 years of age, Washington State University Vancouver is experiencing growing pains. After all, three decades is roughly akin to adolescence for a college.

While the campus continues to grow and to become an essential part of the community, officials are beginning to consider a move that would be a major step toward adulthood — the creation of on-campus housing. Although such a development remains in the distant future — no plans or funding have been identified, and the campus is not yet zoned for residential facilities — the prospect is an exciting one in the advancement of Vancouver’s four-year university.

If WSUV is in its adolescent stage, we’ll consider residential housing as the equivalent of obtaining driver’s license — a rite of passage that demonstrates increased maturity.

The consideration of such development is a remarkable turn for a branch campus that started in 1989 by offering upper-level classes on the campus of Clark College. In 1996, a bucolic 351-acre campus opened in the Salmon Creek area, and in 2006 Washington State University Vancouver began admitting freshmen and offering four years of study. Now, the campus serves more than 3,500 students and confers degrees ranging from undergraduate to Ph.D.

Most important, universities do not operate in a vacuum; they are essential to a region’s economy, culture, and prosperity. As a 2004 study from Claremont Graduate University surmised, “It is clear that even small campuses can play a very strong economic role in their hometown,” and WSUV officials last year reported that 92 percent of graduates remain in Southwest Washington after school.

That is particularly important, with employers throughout Washington frequently lamenting the lack of a qualified workforce. The economy throughout the state is booming, but opportunities in growth fields such as high-tech, health care, and clean energy demand well-trained and well-educated workers. Washington State University Vancouver has helped to fill some of the gaps between supply and demand, but the college’s continued expansion will be crucial to the future of the region.

Part of that eventually will be the establishment of on-campus housing. As a commuter school, WSUV’s potential is limited by the fact that students must live at home or secure their own off-campus housing in a tight rental market. “The whole idea of housing certainly supports our land-grant mission of access, openness and service,” said Nancy Youlden, the university’s vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment.

Indeed, outgrowing adolescence can be a long and painful process, and recent developments in the WSU system demonstrate the need for caution and fiscal responsibility. President Kirk Schulz last month announced sweeping budget cuts to address a $30 million annual deficit, with each department throughout the university’s five campuses being instructed to shave 2.5 percent off spending for fiscal 2018.

That reinforces the notion that on-campus housing remains far off for the Vancouver campus, but it should not obscure the vision of a robust, full-service university down the road. WSUV officials are wise to explore the possibility of housing and to have a plan in place for when development makes financial sense.

Meanwhile, Vancouver’s four-year college is growing up.