Central Washington University today (June 11) announced an expansion of baccalaureate programs to community college campuses throughout the state. Through the CWU Portal Project, the university’s existing satellite campuses will become doorways to regional education networks that bring university programs to underserved communities in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, and in central Washington.
For more than 30 years, CWU has operated University Centers on community college campuses in Des Moines, Edmonds, Everett, Moses Lake, Steilacoom, Wenatchee, and Yakima. The university incorporated Interactive Television (ITV) with face-to-face instruction to meet the needs of students whose commitments to jobs or family prevented enrollment in a traditional university setting.
CWU Associate Provost Tracy Pellett said a significant shift in the need for baccalaureate degrees and in the capacity of educational technology compelled the change in CWU’s long-standing approach to educational outreach.
“Instead of primarily focusing on a specific building on a specific campus, we’ll serve regional needs and use our existing campuses as portals to a broader network of services,” said Pellett, adding that no University Center location or academic program will close as a result of this new initiative. “We’re replacing a site-specific focus with regional outreach that meets the needs of students and employers when and where they occur.”
Pellett said the new approach supports the state's goal of increasing baccalaureate degree production by 27 percent. Meeting that goal will require placing education programs within reach of more non-traditional students and individuals who do not live near a college campus.
Last fall, CWU administrators and faculty conducted a three-day tour of community colleges in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, and in central Washington. Meetings with college and community representatives to discuss educational needs stimulated ideas about revamping the University Centers concept, with a particular focus on moving beyond the physical borders of campuses to reach more people.
“Technology can deliver rich content anywhere, any time,” said Pellett. “Students already are living much of their lives in a virtual world and are eager to earn their degrees there, too. While physical locations are still important and will remain an important part of CWU instructional delivery, they’ll also serve as portals to resources like libraries, advising, and scheduling, and for communications with students and regional employers.”
Delivering content on-line will dramatically reduce the cost to distribute education, Pellett pointed out, noting a smart phone or a laptop computer can now serve as a classroom, instead of a $250,000 ITV facility. However, the old ITV classrooms will still remain in use for some courses. CWU online technological advances allow for extremely engaged virtual classes, with appropriate faculty support. He said each online student experiences a class size of one, regardless of the number of students enrolled. Face-to-face communication would still be a key part of the CWU educational experience, particularly for academic advising and as part of courses that are delivered using a variety of modes, Pellett said.
The meetings with community and college leaders also underscored the need for education not linked to a bachelor’s degree. The Portal Project will expand access to credit and non-credit certificate programs and courses that meet local business and community needs.
It will also streamline transfer pathways for community college students through enhanced dual admission and transfer/articulation planning. In addition, the new concept is designed to reduce administrative overhead by replacing eight site directors with four regional directors, three in the Seattle metropolitan area and one in central Washington. These directors will report directly to a director of operations, reducing yet another layer of administration.
CWU University Centers are co-located in western Washington with Edmonds Community College, Everett Community College, Highline Community College, and Pierce College. In central Washington University Centers are co-located at Big Bend Community College, Wenatchee Valley College, and Yakima Valley Community College.
Face-to-face enrollment at University Centers has begun to decline while enrollment in CWU online degree programs is skyrocketing, up 300 percent in 18 months. Today, CWU offers more online degree programs than any other public university in Washington.