Alliance studies need for Kitsap bachelor’s program

POULSBO — The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance (KEDA) is earning an A for its efforts.

KEDA, a nonprofit organization that works to attract and retain jobs and investments in the county, is making a run at bettering access to four-year college education for residents in Kitsap.

The KEDA Baccalaureate Research Project recently asked Kitsap residents what they thought the county’s need to be concerning four-year college education. After assigning a task force and team of advisors composed of area leaders, the organization polled local business owners and students and is now presenting its findings to state legislators in hopes of securing funding for a Higher Education Coordinating Board study to be conducted this year.

The organization’s ultimate goal is to make it easier for Kitsap residents to earn four-year degrees. The team recommends a “university center” approach, which would allow educational institutions already in the area to coordinate and help to expand services to locals while a more permanent type of program or campus is developed.

“I think lots of people in the community are really, really interested in having access to higher education for people of all ages,” said KEDA consultant Charlotte Garrido. “We know that this is a common sense solution to enhance what we already have here and help it be a stronger presence in our community.”

During its polling, KEDA found that 52 percent of local businesses would expand if they had access to a more educated workforce. Fifty-five percent of local employers actively support education through tuition reimbursement programs for employees or partnering in internship or cooperative training programs.

Garrido said there are 11 institutions of higher learning that currently have some sort of outpost in Kitsap. There are currently 900 students seeking a bachelor’s degree in the county.

KEDA’s findings also outlined the majors most needed for the area’s economic future. Business, computer sciences, engineering and health ranked at the top of the list, followed by education, natural resources, social sciences, human development, math and architectural and urban planning.

“What we’re suggesting is this region needs increased access here so that it’s more comfortable for people to stay in this region,” Garrido said. “We have asked our legislators to support a funding request to do the research.”

Garrido said KEDA’s baccalaureate research team has been meeting monthly since September. She said confronting the access to education is an issue especially important in Washington, as the state ranks 36th in the nation for producing bachelor’s degrees for students 18-24 years of age.

A university center in Kitsap would better serve college students in the area and increase collaboration between the schools already in place, Garrido said.

“There’s not that kind of collective organization that probably would help them have more visibility and provide enhanced service to students,” she said.

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade, one of the task force advisors, said increasing programming within the county is a goal many want to see Poulsbo be a part of. She said Poulsbo’s current offerings are just about to capacity, and expanding here is a definite possibility for the future.

The request for study funding was denied by legislators last year, though the idea was well recieved. Garrido said because of KEDA’s involvement, the amount of funding needed was lessened from $497,000 to $212,000.

She said KEDA’s study, and the one they hope the coordinating board conducts this year, are just the first phases in a project that will evolve — one that could end in a full-fledged university campus.

Though it may be a long time before Kitsap boasts its own university basketball team, the ball, at least, is rolling.

“It just shows community commitment to having increased access to higher education,” Garrido said. “It’s just such an exciting adventure.”

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