According to the Bellevue College website, 60 percent of the students at BC come from outside of Bellevue. Washington State University approached Bellevue College about six months ago with the idea of partnering to find some common ground in serving WSU’s and BC’s students.
“Two groups from each school were put together just to have a preliminary discussion about what there is to talk about, because it really is very complicated,” said Ray White, vice president of Administrative Services.
“For almost a decade now Bellevue has been known as being the innovator, so we’ve been kind of moving in that direction,” said Bellevue College President Dave Rule. “We’re about to get housing and we’ve become somewhat of a regional college and we’ve been moving down this path anyway by trying to push the envelope here and there.”
After almost six months of communication with Bellevue College, WSU came up with a memorandum of understanding detailing the subjects of the merger and making sure that the mission and goals of each school work well with one another. The memorandum of understanding was recently signed by President Rule.
President Rule discussed the long term goal for Bellevue College.
“The desire is to become an open enrollment, urban and hybrid institution, hybrid meaning certificates, associates and baccalaureates. Right now the only public state baccalaureate granting institution is University of Washington in the Seattle metro area, but it’s not very affordable. Bellevue College wants to be that institution that allows its students to obtain an affordable and high quality degree.”
Some major challenges discussed in the memorandum were the differences in the school year system. WSU runs on a semester system, while Bellevue College operates on a quarter system. Also, Bellevue College’s faculty is unionized, but Washington State’s faculty is not. There are pay differences with the faculty as well.
While many of these subjects were open for discussion, President Rule made it clear that there are two points Bellevue College will never compromise on.
“There are a couple deal breakers, one is accessibility. Bellevue College will remain open access, meaning anyone who comes to Bellevue College and wants to learn, we will teach them,” explained White. “The other is affordability. We do it way cheaper than anyone else can do it and value added is really great here.”
President Rule expanded on the issue about tuition and open access.
“Washington State University doesn’t control their tuition and we don’t control ours at Bellevue College either,” said Rule, “tuition is set by the legislator. Part of what the legislation will have to decide, with consultation hopefully, is what tuitions will be.”
White explained how both schools plan on implementing whatever change they agree on slowly and with caution.
“We’re so far away because there are so many issues. We’ve been talking about how it’s taken some time for each team to come up with some guidelines,” said White, “and we think it may be about a year to come to an agreement and then possibly two, three maybe even four more years for us to implement this change.”
Washington State University has established relationships with three other community colleges, Olympic College in Bremerton, Everett Community College and Clark College in Vancouver.
With Bellevue College being the largest community college in the state, a partnership with WSU has the potential to push Bellevue College in the direction of acquiring more four-year degrees.
Bellevue College students have access to read the memorandum of understanding, as well as frequently asked questions about the partnership at bellevuecollege.edu/wsu.
“All of the information that we know right now is on that website, because there are so many unknowns there are probably a lot of questions that are going to remain unanswered, but what we know as fact and what we can share is out there,” said Evan Epstein, Bellevue College’s public relations manager. A partnership of this magnitude has never happened before, President Rule explained, “This is completely new, the idea of creating this hybrid college within a state university has never been done before and that’s what is so exciting.”
President Rule has met with Associated Student Government formally to speak about the partnership.
“As the conversation moves forward it will greatly expand and it will involve a lot more people and students will definitely be a part of that,” President Rule said.