With branch campuses, UW will never be the same

In discussing the birth of the University of Washington branch campuses, UW lobbyist Bob Edie says, “It was a long labor and a difficult delivery and not only that, we had twins.”

The University is justly proud of its new offspring—institutions in Tacoma and the Bothell-Woodinville area where students can complete their last two years of college and, in future years, an applied master’s degree.

The branches were brought to life through a state-commissioned study on higher education needs in the Puget Sound region. That study found a huge gap between the need for education at the junior, senior and post-baccalaureate level and the opportunities available.

For example, the Tacoma area is 40 percent behind the national average in producing college graduates, while the Snohomish County/North King County area is 34 percent behind. Numbers such as these convinced the state legislature and the governor to begin the development of two UW branches. At the same time the state authorized WSU branches in Spokane, Vancouver and the Tri-Cities area.

Most parents agree, life is never the same once their new child comes home from the hospital. Now that the branches are a reality, UW officials agree that the institution will never be quite the same either. Donna Kerr, the dean of branch campuses, says the branches provide new opportunities for the UW.

Donna Kerr

When they open their doors in the autumn of 1990, they will offer a baccalaureate degree program in liberal studies. “It’s an interdisciplinary program in the social sciences and humanities. It could become a model for the nation,” Kerr feels.

While the exact mix of courses is not set, she says the branch B.A. will be in tune with the demands of the market. After surveying both potential students and Puget Sound employers, Kerr found there is a strong need for a general studies, interdisciplinary degree.

“Can they write? Can they work on intellectual problems in teams? Can they speak well? This is what we found employers were looking for,” she explains.

Virtually every course will include a “heavy emphasis” on writing and oral presentation. “One graduation requirement under consideration is to participate in a team on a research project,” she adds.

As Kerr describes the degree program and future plans for applied master’s degrees in nursing, engineering, business and teaching, the image of branches as carbon copies of the main campus fades.

“Children are rarely just like their parents,” Kerr comments. “The branch campuses will not be clones. This region does not need two mini-research institutions.”

Nor will the students be the same. For the 1990 academic year, there will be about 400 students at each branch taking about 3/4 of the credits that a full-time student would take. Kerr expects a broad age range, with some students in their 20s fresh out of community college and some who are considerably older. The average age will be in the early to mid-30s.

Most of these students will be working full-time. Initially classes will be offered from 4 to 10 p.m. and may even happen on the weekend.

These will be determined students working toward a specific degree. “The branch campuses will not be places to fish around for a profession,” Kerr notes. Students will be admitted directly into majors. They will probably attend two long, hard evenings a week and finish their last two years of college in three years.

The branches will serve a different type of student than most UW alumni remember. “There is a misconception of who college students are today,” she says. “They are not all between the ages of 18 and 22, in residence and not working. It’s a myth. For example, the average age of a community college student in this state is 28.

“People now need to have significant employment to go to college.” She notes that in the 1950s it took 19 hours a week. at minimum wage to support oneself at a public college. Now it takes more than 50 hours a week at minimum wage.

The faculty will be different as well, although in the beginning there will be some crossover from the Seattle campus. The branch campus dean wants an initial two to one ratio between branch and main campus faculty. The Seattle campus contribution will gradually fade as more branch professors are hire.

The Seattle faculty is enthusiastic about planning for the new degree program. “It presents the University of Washington with an opportunity to think anew, to step off our planet and see ourselves in a new way,” she explains. The energy invested in this interdisciplinary program will reverberate on the main campus. “It might eventually be adapted or integrated back to the Seattle campus. There will be friendly competition between the branches and the main campus,” Kerr predicts.

Indeed, this influence is one of the ways that the University of Washington will change over the coming decades. By the year 2010 there will be a main campus with about the same number of students as now—33,300. But there will be two branches with between 5,000 and 6,000 students each.

“The Seattle campus will continue to be the Seattle campus,” Kerr assures those with fond memories of the Quad and Rainier Vista. “But the University of Washington will serve the area in ways it has never been able to do in the past.

“This institution serves a much broader audience. It’s a world class institution. But there will be a stronger regional focus on the whole than before.”

That focus will affect both the President of the institution and its Board of Regents. With a three-campus system, the President will face new and different constituencies. President Gerberding often notes that “my successor will have a dif­ferent job from the one I had when I came here. The Regents are going to have a different range of responsibilities.”

Kerr is convinced the branches will change not only the University of Washington as an institution, but the state of Washington as well.

“The state is going to have growth whether we have branch campuses or not. The question is, are we going to have a sufficiently educated work force to maintain the character of our economy?” she asks.

“Extending access to higher education is a very sound investment for the state.”

When asked if alumni might consider the branches as an alternative for their children, Kerr is cautious.

“Remember that the branches will not be the same kind of institution that their parents went to. But if their sons and daughters work in the central Puget Sound area and are not able to complete their bachelor’s degree, these will be very attractive possibilities. Or maybe the alumni themselves will want to go back for another degree.”

Where the branches might go

Although the branch campuses will open their doors a year from now, their exact sites have yet to be determined. The UW has $14 million to spend on capital planning and site acquisition for the two locations, one in Tacoma and one in the Bothell-Woodinville area. Kerr says computer modeling pointed to these urban areas as prime branch locations. They are in the center of huge masses of potential students who have few opportunities to complete their degrees.

The University plans to open its branches in temporary facilities on or near the final site, with construction of the first structures coming in the early 1990s.

There are siting advisory committees for each location, made up of “citizens who have considerable stature in their communities,” says Kerr. These committees are currently identifying potential tracts and must present the UW with a ranked list of possibilities by Dec. 1.

Access to the site by automobile and mass transit will be a key factor, says Kerr. “Access has to drive the planning or there is no point to it.” The committees are trying to find sites that are within a one-hour commute for most of the student population.

The UW is facing the opposite of the NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Back Yard), since the branches are regarded as positive developments. “We have a different problem from someone who is trying to site a prison or a garbage dump,” Kerr says with a smile. Asked if she thinks the money is sufficient for the purchase of enough land, Kerr nods and adds, “We’re always open to gifts.”