Saturday, January 17, 2009

Self-funded University - Take 2

Well the reaction to the proposal to pay for our own university and my blog post are pouring in. There are too many to count, assuming you haven't learn to count to 3. But hey, it's just the future of post-secondary education in our community. It's not like there is a barista in Maltby making coffee in her underwear. [Seriously, compare the number of letters to the editor in the Everett Herald discussing barista attaire vs the university. Some days it's easier to believe in the wisdom of crowds than others.]

Two of the three comments are skeptical of the idea of a local entity building a State facility, one from an anonymous commenter in a previous post and one via Facebook from Kevin. Very legitimate questions about the nature of funding. If Snohomish County funds the university construction how would it transfer to the state, or would it? Would the State fund the operations of the school or not? Would the State subsidize the tuition of students as they do at the other universities or would Snohomish county (or would there be no subsidy so that costs were comparable to other private institutions)? Here is what Kevin had to say:
Interesting idea. Not sure it takes into account the notion of distributing state funding (such as there is) to meet needs across the state or why one county should try to shoulder that budget burden on its own when others clearly don't have to. As a trend it would likely lead to more education resources showing up in wealthy counties (those who can afford to, do, those who can't, don't) and fewer in poor counties?
Kevin is intimately familiar with the funding process in post-secondary education and I take his comments seriously. My response brings me back to the same basic concept - the State doesn't need to build a brand new university complex from the ground up to meet the State's education needs. Further, the citizens of Kitsap County, Vancouver and the Tri-Cities would argue that the State's needs could be better met by spending a $1 billion in construction in their jurisdication. The commute from Poulsbo to Bellingham is longer than from Marysville.

If, as is often stated by proponents for the Snohomish county location, a new university will be a significant economic benefit then the citizens receiving that benefit should have some skin in the game. And let's face it, a world-class polytechnic university focused on graduate and post-graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) isn't going to meet the educational needs of most of our citizen's. It's meant to encourage new businesses and job growth in high-tech fields and the student population will be largely from out of the area (probably out of the country).

The other comment I saw was a letter to the editor in the Herald by Douglas Russell. His comments went directly to the heart of my "put up or shut up" commnet in the original post. Mr. Russell "put up", suggesting that he is more than willing to pay for the educational and economic benefit we would receive from a university, for his children and for his community.
The idea is that I can have a four-year college in my back yard, with a curriculum decided on by the community, based on the needs of the community, employing hundreds of faculty and staff, enrolling hundreds and hundreds of local students, and all I need to do is go to a store and hand the cashier an extra 10 cents the next time I drop $50 on purchases. I've got a dime right here, sign me up.
I am far more impressed by Mr. Russell's commitment of his limited time and money than anything Haugen, Dunshee and Sells have said in the last two years.

Yet, even in his letter we see the disconnect that our civic and political leaders have cultivated throughout this process. Mr Russell asks our leaders "Educate us. Show us how this will work, how we can bring jobs and families back to our community and how we can make a difference in the lives of our children". The sole focus of our leaders, however, has been on construction sites and construction dollars. They have demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they would rather have no university than to have it in the "wrong" city. Further, Mr. Russell is excited about a "curriculum decided on by the community" and not sending his kids off to the U District. Unfortunately, this is planned to be a polytechnic university, so unless all his kids will be studying STEM they may well be living in the U District. Mr. Russell deserves an answer from our leaders. We all do.

So good residents of Snohomish county, what do you think? Willing to pay extra for a local university? If not, why should residents of Bremerton, Richland and Vancouver pay for a university in our county? Should it be another broad-curriculum school or a highly-focused technical school? Should it meet the broad educational needs of our county's citizens or should it's primary purpose be to encourage economic growth and development?

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