WSU Vancouver moving up with underclassmen

The university’s first freshman class will arrive this month

For the first time in the school’s 17-year history, Washington State University Vancouver will welcome a freshman class into its halls this fall.

The door was opened last May when Gov. Christine Gregoire signed a bill making WSU Vancouver the first branch campus open to underclassmen. When classes begin on Aug. 21, about 200 freshmen will join the nearly 2,000 junior, senior and graduate level students on campus. The campus has been busy preparing to meet the demand.

Faculty and staff have been added, recruiting efforts were launched, curriculum was developed and construction of additional facilities is underway.

"It has been a campus-wide effort," said Nancy Youlden, vice chancellor of student services.

Curriculum for the 21st century
The university began developing new curriculum even before underclassman enrollment was approved. Even though it could draw directly from WSU Pullman’s existing coursework, WSU Vancouver had the ability to do something different.

"We thought we could do a better job," said University Chancellor Hal Dengerink.

WSU Vancouver’s general education curriculum will serve as a sort of pilot for Pullman, he said.

"It’s exciting and quite rare in the U.S. to design curriculum for the 21st century," said Candice Goucher, director of undergraduate studies.

The curriculum was designed to meet the needs of students here. The university looked at best practices around the United States and what local businesses and possible employers say they need from graduates, said Goucher.

A key feature of the curriculum is the campus theme: Global Change in a Local Context.

The theme itself did not guide the curriculum; rather it will be used to tie classes together for students.

The typical general education is a smorgasbord of unrelated courses, said Dengerink. Tying them together allows faculty to address issues around a central theme. Science, arts and humanities courses are linked by the theme to provide an interdisciplinary core that gives students different perspectives of the world.

"The theme provides a cohesiveness to the curriculum overall," said Goucher.

Incoming freshmen received a free book they are expected to read prior to classes beginning and to be prepared to participate in discussions related to the book. "The Undercover Economist" by Tim Harford was chosen as this year’s book. It examines the economics behind everyday events, such as traffic jams and buying a cup of coffee. The theme will change every few years, said Goucher.

Outcomes-based learning is emphasized in the general education program. Coursework is designed around achievement in six learning goals, including critical thinking, quantitative and symbolic reasoning, information literacy, communication, self in society and specialty.

Additionally, students will create an e-portfolio in their first year that they will build on throughout their education.

About 10 full- and part-time faculty members were added to support about 30 new classes.

Recruiting locally
Staff were also added to accommodate the needs of the new students outside the classroom, particularly in the area of student services. Recruiting and admitting freshmen was a new concept for WSU Vancouver.

Previously, the university focused on recruiting from area junior colleges and the community at large. But it has now expanded its presence to local high schools to attract students seeking a four-year degree. The university purchased names for direct mail marketing to prospective students in a 100-mile radius and advertised extensively.

Despite WSU Vancouver’s proximity to a number of four-year schools in Oregon, Youlden said non-resident tuition costs keep the university from competing heavily with Oregon schools.

"We are competing with other schools in (Washington), including Pullman," said Youlden.

WSU Vancouver followed the same admission requirements as the Pullman campus. Grade point average, standardized test scores and strength of high school courses taken are considered.

The majority of the first freshman class is made up of students right out of Clark County high schools. This is a stark difference from the non-traditional and transfer students the university has catered to in the past.

"We are optimistic it will bring an added richness to the classroom," said Youlden of the mix of ages at the university. Transfer students will continue to be the school’s bread and butter, she said.

To assist the incoming freshmen who are new to the college experience, the university created its Registration, Orientation, Advising and Resources program. The third and final ROAR event will be held on Aug. 11. It is intended to facilitate a successful transition to college life for new students. A two-day orientation will also be held on Aug. 18 and 19.

Growth spurt
Dengerink said WSU Vancouver expects to grow by about 200 students each year for the next several years as the program builds. And it will need room to house the growing student population.

Two projects are already underway. Renovation of an 11,500-square-foot building, which formerly housed a bookstore, will become a commons area for students and house student government offices. An 18,000-square-foot student services center is also under construction. Both projects are expected to be completed by fall 2007.

The university is in the design process for a classroom building. Dengerink said construction could begin a year from now and last 18 months. Finally, a facility to accommodate the electrical engineering program is in pre-design and is expected to be built between 2009 and 2011.

Youlden said the university is at a key transition point.

"WSU Vancouver has all the pieces to continue to evolve," she said.

Plans are being laid to expand upper division programs to provide students more opportunities and meet the needs of the local community.

The transition, said Dengerink, gives area students the opportunity to stay home and have a four-year experience. While there is some benefit to isolated college campuses, such as WSU Pullman, attendees of WSU Vancouver can be students and members of the community where they will live and work after graduation at the same time, said Dengerink.

And the community will benefit from the number of graduates coming out of the university and the degrees they have obtained, he said.

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