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Branch campuses to offer doctoral programs if legislation passes

By Kimberly Swetland
On March 1, 2011

Washington's research university branch campuses were created in 1989 to increase opportunities for students to complete their baccalaureate and graduate-level studies. Currently, the University of Washington operates branch campuses in Bothell and Tacoma. Washington State University operates branches in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities.

University of Washington and WSU branch campuses are currently waiting for the go ahead from legislators to begin offering doctoral programs. These proposals have been years in the making. Senate Bill 5315 and companion House Bill 1586 are presently making their way through committees. The bills, if passed, would remove a legal barrier to offering doctoral degrees, but would not finance or construct any such programs.

Senate Bill 5315 is sponsored by Senators Becker, Pridemore, Delvin, Kastama, McAuliffe, Regala, Zarelli, Kilmer, Conway, Shin, Tom, and Rockefeller. The House Bill 1586 is sponsored by Representatives Seaquist, Haler, Jacks, Dammeier, Moscoso, Carlyle, Zeiger, Moeller, Probst, Kenney, Stanford, Kelley, Dahlquist, and Jinkins. The support for these bills is bipartisan in both the House and Senate.

House Bill 1586, regarding the provision of doctoral programs at branch campuses, was referred to House Committee on Higher Education on Jan. 26. The Committee recommended by majority that the bill pass, and has been referred to the House Committee on Education Appropriations & Oversight (HCEAO).

There was a public hearing for the bill on Feb. 17 and an Executive Session in the HCEAO on Feb. 18.

Senate Bill 5315, regarding the provision of doctoral programs at branch campuses, had its first reading on Jan. 20, 2011, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Higher Education & Workforce Development. The Committee recommended by majority that the bill pass, and was passed to the Rules Committee on Feb. 18 for the second reading.

A joint 2009 report was conducted by the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB), the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Workforce Training and Education Board. It found that to prepare Washington residents to meet employer demand and be competitive in the labor market by 2016, there was a gap of over 5,000 degrees at each level: sub-baccalaureate, baccalaureate and graduate.

Beginning in early 2009, the HECB embarked on a project to comprehensively examine the current system of higher education and propose a strategic framework that would guide future investments. The HECB found that institutions' planned growth for graduate degrees is insufficient to meet Washington's higher education goals in all but two regions.

WSU and UW are the only two public institutions of higher education authorized to award research doctorate degrees in Washington. Eastern Washington University is authorized to award an applied doctorate in physical therapy. UW Bothell, UW Tacoma, WSU Vancouver, and WSU Tri-Cities are branch campuses of the two research universities authorized to award baccalaureate and masters level degrees.

This proposal would benefit students by allowing them to enroll in pending doctoral programs at branch campuses, cutting down on travel and cost, as well as granting a larger number of students access to the programs, whereas many doctoral programs at main campuses currently have limited enrollment. For example, in 2010, UW Seattle College of Education had 69 students matriculate its Doctor of Education program. Offering this degree at branch campuses would increase that number. UWT is already hoping to offer a Doctor of Education degree program that would target school and college administrators and prepare nurses and other medical professionals to teach at community colleges if this piece of legislation passes. The doctoral program would also need to be approved by the HECB before it could be offered.

The ability of branch campuses to offer doctoral programs is a vital next step in producing the workforce needed to address the continued economic growth of Washington State and would be a cost-efficient means to grant more degrees because several of the faculty members at branch campuses already qualify to teach doctorate programs.

With continued growth of the local economy, many industries, especially healthcare, face labor shortages in the coming years. According to a 2008 report by the Washington Center for Nursing, the state will have a work force shortage of about 25,000 registered nurses by 2020 if there are no changes to health and education policy.

In addition, allowing branch campuses to offer doctoral programs will affect the cultural and economic character of the communities where they are located, the regions they serve, and the state. This proposal contributes to the strategic master plan goal of increasing the number of students who earn degrees by increasing upper-division and graduate enrollment.

Well over 1,000,000 students attend branch campuses and centers each year.

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