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Originally published Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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UW, WSU expand enrollment in schools' engineering programs

Both the University of Washington and Washington State University are growing their engineering schools. The UW is also letting in more in-state freshmen this fall than last year.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

Freshman applicants to Washington universities

Click image to zoom. Most Washington state universities saw an uptick in freshman applicants for fall 2012. (Graphic by Mark Nowlin / The Seattle Times).

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More college students who want to become engineers will get that opportunity in the coming years, as both the University of Washington and Washington State University put nearly $8 million into growing the size of their engineering programs this fall.

As part of a budget agreement in the last legislative session, lawmakers directed the UW and WSU to use $3.8 million apiece toward engineering, which will eventually result in 380 more engineering degrees per year — a 29 percent increase in the total number of students getting engineering degrees from state schools.

The money is not a new appropriation. Both schools have had to cut from other programs in order to boost the engineering colleges.

"It's going to be a welcome infusion of cash into the programs, because we're bursting at the seams and turning away qualified students right now," said Candis Claiborn, dean of engineering at WSU.

The same thing is true at the UW. "Our quality's going off the charts, but we're leaving behind really good kids," said Matt O'Donnell, dean of engineering.

This past year, the uptick in interest on engineering is "just enormous," with hundreds of visitors asking to see the engineering school, said Sol Jensen, executive director for enrollment services.

WSU graduates about 520 engineering students a year, and the UW graduates about 800. The degrees are a mix of undergraduate and graduate degrees; most are undergraduate.

It will take a few years to grow the programs, because both schools have to hire new faculty members to teach the additional classes.

WSU will use some of the money to grow a mechanical engineering program at Bremerton-based Olympic College, and to launch a similar program at Everett Community College in August.

Both of those degrees are offered through the university centers located at each college, allowing students in Western Washington to earn their degrees without having to move to Pullman.

At both universities, a chunk of the money will go to computer-science degrees. For example, at the UW, a little less than half the money will go to computer science and computer engineering, O'Donnell said.

Money for engineering schools is one of two higher-education enrollment-related changes the Legislature made in its last two sessions.

Lawmakers in 2011 required the UW to increase to 4,000 the number of in-state freshmen admitted for fall 2012; last year, 3,850 in-state students were admitted.

The provision was part of a law that gave the state's four-year schools the flexibility to set their own tuition.

Overall, the number of applicants and the admission rate at the state's six four-year schools changed only a little from last year.

WSU, which had its largest freshman class ever in 2011, expects to admit fewer students this year for a class of about 4,000, although the number could go higher, said Jensen, enrollment director.

Western Washington University received 700 more applications than it did last year, and expects about the same number of freshmen will enroll this fall, said Clara Capron, director of admissions and financial aid.

Eastern Washington University received 14 percent more applications this year than it did last year — about 600 additional applications. Officials at the university in Cheney say they believe they're getting more applications because the school has the lowest tuition among the state's six four-year schools.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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