Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sno Poly Fighting Ailerons

Saturday's Everett Herald featured a story by political writer Jerry Cornfield on the possiblity of Snohomish County funding its own University. Sen. Steve Hobbs is introducing legislation to create a higher education investment district to fund the creation of the 4-year Polytechnic university. Funding would come from bonds that would be repaid with the proceeds from a .02% sales tax increase in areas participating in the investment district. Newly elected Rep. Mike Hope is sponsoring a companion bill in the House.

I am no fan of the proposed university - it funnels money from education to construction - but I really like this proposal because it gives the citizens a chance to indicate how important the college is to them. Hobbs is quoted as saying "Now this says to the community 'if you really want it, here is an opportunity and if you don't want it, we'll move on.' " Let me summarize:
Snohomish County, put up or shut up.
Let's face it, up to now we have had no skin in the game. All the benefits come to us and all the costs are paid by someone else. What a deal! But that's not how life should work. When we break the feedback loop, when benefits aren't balanced against costs, we create a situation where really poor decisions are made (like when people who make mortgages are insulated from the negative effects of the loans going bad).

Under the Hobbs proposal residents of Snohomish county can vote to raise their own sales tax and commit the money to paying off $400 million in bonds. That is what I call putting your money where your mouth is. In addition, the proposal seems to put a stake in the ground and definatively state that this will be a polytechnic university. No waffling, no leaving open the possibility of an art history degree. Knowing it will be a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused school will also help voters decide if the proposed university will fill their needs for post-secondary education.

If my fellow citizens voted to tax themselves to build a polytechnic university I would get behind the effort. I might even go for a Master's in Computer Science (Mrs. AdvisoryBored's MS is making my BA feel inferior). Still there is plenty in the article to make me doubt the university will ever come to fruition:
  • Aaron Reardon heaps blame on the state for not doing it's job to build a college, but it was us that couldn't choose a site. If the three musketeers (stooges?) - Haugen, Sells, Dunshee - couldn't come to some agreement over the course of 18-months and with the help of a mediator, why do you think they will put their bickering aside now?
  • Mike Sells doesn't think the idea will get much "traction", but it deserves a hearing. A hearing in front of the committee where he is Vice-Chairman. If it doesn't get much traction it will because Sells doesn't want it to get much traction.
  • It is questionable if this school will be able to meet any significant portion of the demand for post-secondary education by our county's citizens. While half of the slots might be allocated to local students, there is a very really possibility that local students won't be interested in or prepared for STEM-focused programs. Backers have consistently described these as "high demand programs", but they refused to acknowledge that students have not been enrolling in these programs for years. Everyone needs to understand up front that this school's population may largely be young men from other parts of this country or world.
In the meantime, let's look towards Central, Western, EdCC and EvCC (including University Center) to keep delivering the goods.

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