Opinion

North Snohomish County the best location for new college

by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen

Research polls now show that for the first time in our countrys history, Americans expect their children to have fewer opportunities in life than they had.
While there are many reasons for this global competition, shrinking payrolls, wealth shifting from the middle class to the top one percent of the population, and spiraling costs of housing, education and health care there is only one appropriate response: Its unacceptable.
From the very inception of our country, generations of Americans have strived to give their children better opportunities than they had and succeeded. But today were poised to become the first generation to watch our children backslide since the grim days of the Great Depression. We need to change course fast and we can start by providing better educational opportunities.
The Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board concluded in its Master Plan for Education in 2004 that every college in the state is overenrolled and that we produce too few job-ready graduates. That shouldnt come as a surprise; although we have added several branch campuses to existing schools, we have not approved a new public four-year college or university in 35 years, and the last new school before then was founded a century ago.
Meanwhile, our population has doubled in the past 20 years and businesses are telling us they need to look out of state to find qualified employees. This is crazy. The last thing we want is for high-tech industries to avoid locating in north Puget Sound or anywhere else in Washington because we cant provide an educated and skilled work force.
A new, four-year college in north Snohomish County would change that. In 2004, I helped secure $500,000 for a study that identified north Snohomish County as the best location for a school to serve students from Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties. More recently, critics have weighed in recently with competing proposals, but the facts favor north Snohomish County. Heres why:
Snohomish is the second largest county in the state without a four-year college.
The surrounding area is one of the fastest growing in the state, projected to grow from 600,000 to 800,000 people in the next two decades.
Snohomish is well positioned along the Interstate Five corridor and doesnt overlap the service areas of other four-year colleges and universities. A short commute benefits all students but is even more vital to the many working adults trying to continue their education during their scant hours outside work, a growing necessity in our increasingly competitive world.
Students from families with modest incomes in north Puget Sound cant afford college room and board but would be able to attend a school within a reasonable commute from their homes.
Criticism of this proposal has come chiefly from schools that claim they could serve north Puget Sound more efficiently by expanding existing outlets such as the University of Washingtons branch campus in Bothell. But as a colleague in the House of Representatives recently noted, only 26 percent of UW Bothells current undergraduates are from Snohomish County. If thats the best UW Bothell can do after 15 years, is there any reason to believe the next 15 years will make the school any more viable for aspiring students in Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties?
I respect the pressures facing schools like the UW: They fear theyll wind up with a smaller piece of the pie if we add a new school to the mix. But instead of fighting over the existing pie, we need to make the pie bigger and provide opportunities that truly serve our students.
Area support for a new, four-year polytechnic college in north Snohomish County is overwhelming; I saw that for myself in several recent hearings to gather public feedback on the proposal. But others need to hear it, too. If you agree on the need for such a school, make your support known: Contact your state legislators, the governors office, the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. North Puget Sound needs a four-year college; its up to all of us in the Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties to make it happen.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairs the Senate Transportation Committee and represents the 10th Legislative District composed of all of Island County and parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties.

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