WWU creates new partnership with Olympic College

POULSBO — Those looking locally for four-year degrees may soon have another opportunity.

A new partnership between Olympic College and Western Washington University and creation of a WWU Center at Olympic College Poulsbo will be announced during an event July 17.

Neither the college or university are releasing any information beyond the event announcement. However, multiple sources confirmed Wednesday that the partnership will include a four-year, bachelor’s degree in business.

In a previous Herald story, Olympic College President David Mitchell said the college was looking at which programs are in the highest demand, and which are the most sustainable — of which one possibility was business.

More educational opportunities means more jobs, so Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge, supports the idea of more four-year degrees being offered at Olympic College Poulsbo.

“Obviously it’s very, very exciting,” Hansen said.

Both Drew Hansen and Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern said they heard the university would offer a business degree. An employee at the school also said a business degree is the next offering at OC Poulsbo.

The business degree in Poulsbo could be similar to the engineering degree offered at Olympic College’s main campus in Bremerton through Washington State University, Hansen said. Structurally, Hansen believes the lower-course work will be taught by OC staff, while upper-course work is taught by university staff. Those student in the engineering program through WSU can take pre-engineering courses, apply to WSU and finish their degree through WSU without leaving the Puget Sound. Mitchell described the partnership with WSU a “win-win” in 2012.

Bringing in more offerings for degrees goes along with the City of Poulsbo's comprehensive plan, and brings the college's focus back to four-year degrees, said Stern, who served on the Olympic College NK Advisory Board in the early 1990s. Since the nursing program moved back to the main campus in Bremerton in 2010, the Poulsbo campus has mainly seen high school students through Running Start, and transfer students, Stern said.

About 20 percent of the Poulsbo campus’ enrollment in 2010 was nursing students, according to a previous Herald story. About 60 percent of students were in transfer programs. The nursing degree was the first four-year degree program on the west side of the Puget Sound, Stern said.

In the comprehensive plan, an objective is to promote a “college town,” Stern said. This includes providing housing “appropriate” for students, while keeping travel time down; it goes along with tourism, and attracting business and industry, he said.

And a business degree would not just benefit those living in the north end of Kitsap, as people from around the area, including Bainbridge Island and Jefferson County, would have a more local option, Stern said.

Though a new partnership is planned, Western Washington University is no stranger to Poulsbo. Western’s Huxley College of the Environment offers a bachelor of science in environmental science, and bachelor of arts in environmental policy.

Adding another degree opportunity on the Poulsbo campus will make it easier for students to juggle coursework with jobs, Hansen said.

Talks around a partnership began in 2012. The Poulsbo campus wasn't being filled to capacity. Filling seats at Poulsbo is a goal.

Increasing enrollment is a priority, Mitchell said in 2012.

“I want to increase enrollment significantly,” he said.  “We have the capacity for more [students].”

Mitchell, along with Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson and County Commissioner Robert Gelder, met with representatives from Western Washington University to discuss offering four-year programs at the Poulsbo campus.

The university is looking to increase its presence around Western Washington, said Steve Swan, Western’s vice president for university relations, in 2012. This includes more outreach and partnerships.

The two administrative bodies met again in December, when Western President Bruce Shepard visited the Poulsbo campus. Along with the college administration, Shepard met with business and community leaders.

At the same time as Western was meeting in Poulsbo, the university was performing a survey to determine if the proper needs and resources are present in the area. Swan said the school will continue to do research before making a commitment either way.

Though not much was known of the WWU Center planned for the Poulsbo campus, an employee said there was a significant amount of space planned for it.

A four-year degree through Olympic College is a "much better investment cost" than going to a university and graduating students with debt, which could take decades to pay off, Stern said.

“I think it’s terrific,” Stern said. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”

The event July 17 will begin at 1 p.m. on the Poulsbo campus, 1000 Olympic College Way NW.


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