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Wednesday, April 4, 2007 - Page updated at 02:00 AM

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Snohomish County opinion

UW branch a sound option

Special to The Times

The creation of a University of Washington branch campus in the North Sound is a prudent and practical option toward the development of a four-year institution to serve the region's students, families and employers.

Recent studies find that the higher-education needs of a projected 15,000 to 18,000 area students will be unmet by 2025 without action to improve access to baccalaureate and advanced degrees in the North Sound region (Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties). In a county with a population projected to be 1 million within years — and one of the largest counties in the country without a four-year baccalaureate- and advanced-degree-granting institution — we understand the enormous social and economic impact educational choice and opportunity have on the community. And, we are clearly aware of the costs, the complexities and the competition for scarce education dollars.

While Snohomish County embodies a vigorous economy paced by world-class, technology-based aerospace, health-care and high-tech industries, we also recognize the scarcity of homegrown, technically advanced university graduates whose skills will drive the region's future.

The community envisions a four-year university developed over the coming decades with strategic emphasis on math, science, engineering and technology.

Over the past 20 years, the Legislature's preferred path toward higher-education expansion has been in an incremental, branch-campus model. The state has not built a new freestanding university since The Evergreen State College in the 1970s. There are no indications the state is intending to site a new campus anytime soon.

While we wait for the state to authorize a new campus — a campus that may or may not be sited in the North Sound — scores of talented local high-schools graduates will choose to go elsewhere for college ... or choose not to enroll at all.

It is clear the region needs a university partner to succeed. The quickest and best pathway to that end is a working relationship with the University of Washington, one of the most prestigious, highly respected research institutions in the United States, if not the world.

Discussions with the University of Washington are at the highest levels.

Expansion of the UW to this region will open new, affordable and convenient academic choices for North Sound students, families and employers. Consider the success of UW-Tacoma and Washington State University-Vancouver. While those campuses waited 14 to 15 years to gain legislative authority to enroll lower-division students, the proposed relationship of UW to the North Sound region provides the latitude to expand enrollment as growth warrants.

Startup for a new UW branch should be swift, with ready access to quality programming and teaching, student services, online resources and quick response to demand forecasts. Concurrent with an evolution of a UW branch campus serving as a four-year institution must be a clear focus on the educational needs of a math and science work force. It is our responsibility as community leaders to ensure that for our children to have access to the high-quality jobs of a stable and diverse economy, we provide an equally high-quality educational foundation.

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We welcome this opportunity to partner with the University of Washington to ensure that our children, grandchildren, businesses, community and state have access to the necessary tools they will need to compete in a worldwide marketplace. We intend to be a deeply involved working partner, offering the same "roll-up-the-sleeves" attitude we exhibited in the pursuit of the Boeing 787 assembly and the development of Naval Station Everett.

It is time for community leaders to coalesce around the best possible alternative for Everett, Snohomish County and the North Sound. In each capital budget, the Legislature and governor have all signaled a willingness to take the next critical planning steps with us.

The time is now to secure the University of Washington as our higher-education partner, as these planning tasks unfold in the coming months, with the same drive and passion that convinced Boeing that Snohomish County is the best place in the world to do business and convinced the United States Navy that Everett was the best place on the West Coast to homeport its ships and homestead its families.

Ray Stephanson is the mayor of the city of Everett.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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