Branch campus bingo

Communities in Snohomish County are like rabid Dawgs vying for a University of Washington branch campus. But what will they get? Here's a look at the UW branches in Bothell and Tacoma and their local imprints.
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The University of Washington branch campus in Tacoma. (UW)

Communities in Snohomish County are like rabid Dawgs vying for a University of Washington branch campus. But what will they get? Here's a look at the UW branches in Bothell and Tacoma and their local imprints.

The site of the next University of Washington campus has been narrowed to a final four: two sites in Everett (Everett Station and Riverside Point), Marysville, and Lake Stevens. A consultant will deliver a recommendation to Gov. Chris Gregoire this week, and lawmakers are tasked with choosing the winner during the 2008 legislative session.

In Everett, citizens have turned out in droves at pep rallies wearing Husky purple, flying their Dawg flags high. Marysville is busy positioning itself as the apex of a possible tri-counties campus. Lake Stevens officials dream of a campus with easy access from Highway 2 and an improved Highway 9. It seems there are no detractors of the notion of planting a UW flag in Snohomish County. More than 70 sites volunteered to the initial call. Is this prize really such a big deal?

The UW in Snohomish County might not be like the existing branch campuses in Tacoma and Bothell – a technology-driven curriculum is being discussed for the north branch, as well as a residential experience, whereas the other two offer a range of degrees and are not residential campuses. But a look at the Tacoma and Bothell locations is instructive in how a UW branch can adapt to and influence the surrounding communities – and other nearby colleges.

From an economic revitalization perspective, the University of Washington campus in Tacoma presents a strong case. UWT is a visual anchor in Tacoma's downtown corridor, and much of what grounds Tacoma in working-class history has been preserved through appealing, innovative architectural renovations to existing warehouses. The campus is both impressive and inviting, positioned across from the Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum, with the Link light rail offering ease of movement from there to the Sounder station and to points higher up the downtown slope. There's a flurry of activity in and around the campus on most days, and plenty of new businesses moving in to cater to the student crowds. ItÂ'ꀙs easy to see why Everett, especially, would want to replicate this model.

UWT's curriculum is vitally shaped by its site, as well, most notably in the Urban Studies program. Urban Studies provides students the opportunity to study cities in an interdisciplinary way, across the fields of history, sociology, economics, political science, and environmental science, and leads to careers in urban planning, public administration, and other areas.

However, the academic offerings in Tacoma and at UW's other branch campus, in Bothell, are of course not the same as the prestigious schools of study on the main campus in Seattle. Neither Tacoma nor Bothell offers a single course of study through the Ph.D. level, and undergraduate and master's degrees are limited to a handful of fields, represented by programs – not full schools of study as found in Seattle.

UW-Bothell programs of study:
Business Administration
Computing & Software Systems
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
Applied Computing
Policy Studies
Cultural Studies

UW-Tacoma programs of study:
Business Administration
Computing & Software Systems
Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences
Computer Engineering & Systems
Environmental Science
Social Welfare
Urban Studies
Global Honors (emphasis on global interactions)

U.S. News & World Report, which ranks colleges according to such metrics as student/faculty ratio and number of entering freshmen in the top 25 percent of their class, ranks the University of Washington 42nd in the nation, 12th when the field is more meaningfully narrowed to public universities. Among Washington universities offering education only through the master's level, neither Bothell nor Tacoma has yet achieved ranking. Here's the ranking of other Washington master's degree-granting universities.

6Seattle University9Whitworth University13Pacific Lutheran University14Seattle Pacific University27Evergreen State College39Walla Walla University43Central Washington University43Eastern Washington University58St. Martin's University

Given the program limitations of both Bothell and Tacoma, it's worth considering why UW hasn't expanded in a more research-focused manner, or with residential campuses. California's board of regents has successfully done this with the first U.S. research university to open in the 21st century.

The University of California in Merced, in central California's San Joaquin Valley, officially opened in 2005 as a traditional residential university. Most importantly, the school boasts a decided emphasis on research that should be the envy of flagship public colleges everywhere. Three specialized research institutes — such as the well-respected Sierra Nevada Research Institute, which brings together experts in natural sciences, engineering, and policy — draw faculty and garner major funding that already outpaces much more established universities.

It's this focus on research that enables a city to benefit economically from a new campus, says Frank Quintero, economic development manager for the city of Merced. He and other San Joaquin Valley governing leaders have been working with UC-Merced specifically on entrepreneurship opportunities that may derive from new research, some of which has already generated new patent filings. "Say a professor develops technology that can lead to a microdish (as opposed to barrels or panels) that takes in solar energy," he says. "That technology can be turned into a product that can be commercialized."

Quintero notes that another critical research area for them is medicine, since there is not a strong medical presence in the valley. There are 10-year plans to develop a medical school at UC-Merced, adding to its three existing schools: social sciences, humanities, and the arts; engineering; and natural sciences.

"We haven't seen the full economic benefit to the community — yet," says Quintero. "We have 1,800 students so far, which means some new dollars in the community, but at the seven- to 10-year mark, we'll see it. It's absolutely worth it."

While winners of the new campus contest in Washington might never reap what Merced has sown, to hold UW up to this model may be comparing Washington apples to California oranges. Norm Arkans, executive director of media relations for UW, argues that the two state's boards of regents had different objectives. "Neither [Tacoma nor Bothell] is a Research I university, but we are not trying to replicate the research powerhouse that you have in Seattle," he says. "It takes way too much money and way too many years to do that."

Rather, both campuses were founded 17 years ago with the intent to provide place-bound students with options at the junior, senior, and master's levels. According to Arkans, the real problem is Washington's current status as 38th in the nation for percentage of students awarded bachelor's degrees. Ana Mari Cauce, UW's executive vice provost, agrees, citing that the split between graduates of four-year colleges and two-year colleges is 40-60, respectively. "That's not where you want to be as a state that houses Boeing and Microsoft," Arkans says.

The original intent assumed a "2+2" model: Students would take two years at a community college and then transfer to one of the UW campuses. But in the spring of 2005, the Washington Legislature gave UW permission to expand the campuses as four-year colleges. "There are some people who feel the 2+2 model isn't the best model to serve baccalaureate degrees," says Arkans. UW found that some students who transferred from community colleges were not prepared, and others wanted to do additional coursework at the freshman and sophomore levels despite having completed community college degrees.

For those community colleges with a lot of students transferring to UWT, such as Tacoma Community College (TCC) and Pierce College, the move to four-year status was cause for concern. Would they compete for students? "Well, of course we are," says Timothy Stokes, TCC's vice president of academic and student affairs. But UW provost Cauce says, "There is plenty of room for growth in that four-year market without doing damage in the community college system."

UWT's move to four-year status has meant a substantial change in focus for TCC. Formerly, TCC concentrated on preparing students for a move to a four-year college, with a full 60 percent of the student body transferring. "Now we're focused on workforce development, pre-college preparation, and on science and engineering as prerequisites for allied health," says Stokes.

TCC has already seen a shift in enrollment away from the 100- and 200-level courses that equate to freshman and sophomore years in college and toward the developmental levels below 100. "We're spending a lot of time making sure we have a world-class pre-college program," he says, and that includes close coordination with UWT. Students can enroll at both campuses, sharing their financial aid package across the two. "Coexistence is possible," says Stokes.

Notably, UW-Bothell shares its site with Cascadia Community College, the two campuses seeming to flow into each other, sharing signage and architectural detail. Cascadia students have access to UW's 6 million-volume library. Stokes says that a close relationship of that nature just wasn't possible with the Tacoma campus, as UWT's intent from the beginning was to play a part in the downtown renaissance, and TCC was a well-established campus, not a newbie like Cascadia, established in 2000.

The UW expansion model is not likely to result, in Snohomish County or anywhere else, in the kind of economic transfusion that a research university like UC-Merced promises. And it should put any community colleges in the vicinity of a planned site on notice. However, UW's approach exemplifies a sharp focus on the needs of students who, for financial or personal reasons, are not able to leave their home cities to attend college.

Dr. JoLynn Edwards, a founding faculty member of UW-Bothell, points out that UWB favors longer classes of two hours (with a break) a couple times a week instead of 50-minute daily classes, which are a better fit for working students' lives. Most students enrolled at UWB work, even those of traditional college age, right out of high school. "We have reconceptualized what the college experience is like," says Edwards, adding that location — the Bothell campus is right off Interstate 405 — and parking — they have this in spades — do matter.

Edwards, whose specialty is art history, also points to UWB's innovative courses, such as those offered by the Culture, Literature, and the Arts program, which tend to cross traditional lines of study. "I think we're a kind of laboratory for that interdisciplinary way of thinking, and for speaking and writing," she says

For example, the study of sexuality is coupled with a study of literature, and in another course, faculty member Martha Groom asks her students to become Wikipedians in an effort to provide a research project whose audience goes beyond scholars and academics. "I'm teaching a different kind of student body here" than in a traditional art department, says Edwards. "They are not art majors taking required art history courses that they mostly hate."

Students who might slip under the radar at UW-Seattle might get more attention at UWB, where there are no large lecture halls and classes of 35 students or fewer are likely. Edwards emphasizes group work, both in spontaneous classroom discussions and as long-term collaborative projects. "You can manage that thread of communication as a professor," she says. "You can generate a real excitement and intensity in the classroom."

Still, when most high school students envision college life, they don't see a small college without dorms perched on the side of a hill in the suburbs. "ItÂ'ꀙs true that students might not look at us as their first choice," admits Edwards. "WeÂ'ꀙd like to become a destination campus, but weÂ'ꀙre not there yet."

Some students enroll in UWB while they are waiting to get into the main Seattle campus. A new feature on the UW admissions form allows students to check which other campuses they would be willing to attend in the event that Seattle doesn't accept them. Edwards cautions that students who place high value on the traditional collegiate experience most likely should not enroll at UWB. "If we had had dorms, our whole character would have been different; we would have planned differently."


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