WSU leaders consider students, industry needs

As an engaged community, we should all continue to support universities and colleges throughout region

Any parents in the Clark County community who have children who are getting ready to embark on the journey of higher education know how important it is for their soon-to-be college students to choose a university or college that not only challenges them and inspires them, but that also provides them with the tools they need to have an outstanding career in their chosen field.

During a time when several different industries are in dire need of skilled and well-educated workers, including construction, manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, business and pretty much anything in the technical field, leaders of Washington State University are doing their best to juggle demand, space, professors and money in order to provide the best programs for students who want to enter these different career fields.

Although no one can ever fully prepare for what programs will need be curtailed to fit the current industry demands, the head honchos of these local universities, like newest WSU President Kirk Schulz, do their best to customize different degree programs to best fit students’ needs and industry needs.

While many parents and their young students may immediately want to look at other universities or colleges outside the state when they first start looking at higher education options, I would encourage both to first look at the great higher education institutions in your own backyard.

“We continue to work on growing all of the programs that are in high demand in the area, such as engineering,” Schulz said when he recently made a visit to the WSU Vancouver campus and sat down with Chancellor Mel Netzhammer, Steve and John McDonagh, and myself. “We don’t want students to have to leave the region to get great jobs. We want grads to have outstanding education, training and opportunities right here.”

Although both Schulz – who became the 11th president of WSU in 2016 – and Netzhammer work hard to finesse the programs for industries that are in high demand in our area, both are also well aware that not every student wants to get into the fields that are in high demand. They both also recognize the importance of offering flexibility when it comes to how students take their courses (on campus, online, a combination of both, etc.).

“We get a lot of people asking sometimes, ‘why isn’t everyone going into those fields?’” Schulz said. “Not everyone wants to study those things. There’s a balance point between market demand and student passion.”

Schulz said WSU as a system continues to see growth on all campuses, but mostly outside of the Pullman campus, and also growth in those students who are opting for the online educational experience. He said about 40 percent of students in Pullman are taking a class online, and Netzhammer said about 10 percent of students who are enrolled at the Vancouver campus are taking part in online classes.

The WSU Vancouver campus continues to see steady growth, showing that more and more students are realizing they don’t have to leave home to get a top-notch formal education. In the past, campuses like the Vancouver one were referred to as “branch campuses.” However, Schulz says that term is no more, as the term feels like it implies that those campuses are something lesser.

“If you look at the WSU system, I am the chancellor of the Pullman campus and the president of the system,” Schulz said. “We’ve been updating the enterprise budget, figuring out what things make sense to be system related and what things need to be campus related.”

“Any place we can recognize efficiencies is important, it makes us more responsible to taxpayers,” Netzhammer said. “Kirk’s vision is that WSU is stronger if each WSU campus is responding to the needs of their communities. We’re all Cougs through and through.”

As a 2010 graduate of WSU myself, I couldn’t agree more with Schulz’s vision of allowing each individual WSU campus determine what its needs are based on its surrounding community. As the WSU Vancouver campus continues to grow different programs that cater to not only the industries that are prevalent in our community right now, but also to those students who maybe aren’t interested in the high-demand fields, I think more and more Clark County raised students will decide it benefits them to stay local when it comes to higher education.

I attended and graduated from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at the WSU Pullman campus, but I have no doubt I would have opted to stay here and attend the Vancouver campus if there would have been a journalism program. Who knows, maybe one day my future children will follow in my footsteps and will be able to attend WSU Vancouver for a degree in journalism.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.