BC-WSU partnership progresses

At the beginning of this year, Bellevue College and Washington State University explored a potential partnership, discussing an array of topics from tuition to the possibility of switching to WSU’s semester system. Since then, though the discussions continue, the two institutions have not been explicit about the details of the merger. As a result, representatives from the two institutions gathered on Sept. 8 to share some of the challenges that they have faced and the advancements in the discussions of the partnership.

With a partnership such as this, the challenges will lie in the specifics. “When you’re looking at two institutions that have been in existence and have their cultures and identities and ways of doing things, there are going to be challenges obviously,” said BC’s Dean of Undergraduate Research Dr. Gita Bangera.
“Most of the challenges are going to be in the nitty gritty details.”

Many of these challenges will come from the “day-to-day running,” according to Bangera, with questions such as, “How do we go from quarters to semesters, how does the two-year degree connect to the four-year degree, how are the faculty going to be affected,” still unanswered.

Tuition will also be one of the most discussed aspects of this partnership. “In the preliminary conversations and thinking about access and affordability, I think there’s been a lot of conversation about trying to have a differentiated model,” explained WSU VP of Government Relations and External Affairs Colleen Kerr.
“Having said that, the differentiated tuition model is something that the state is dealing with across the board for higher education.”

The differentiated tuition model would charge different majors with varying costs, increasing the prices for in-demand majors or science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. Although this model would help the developments of different programs if and when the two colleges merge, it would augment financial burden on students as well.

Furthermore, this merger will not put BC under WSU’s umbrella, but rather, “we’re looking at something that is different than urban campus extension models that we have placed so far,” said WSU’s VP of Global Campus Dave Cillay.

Through this partnership, BC will be “a new type of institution, one providing the full array, from one-year certificates or less all the way to full baccalaureate degrees,” explained BC President Dr. Dave Rule.

Although there are more than a few challenges to hash out, BC and WSU share common ideals and motives for their ongoing discussions. Representatives from WSU and BC believe that access, affordability and innovation are at the center of this conversation.

“There is a problem with higher-ed in the state of Washington,” said Steven Miller, chair of BC’s Board of Trustees.

“There are students who need more education and there are often inabilities for those students to access that,” explained Miller. “We’re trying to make it easier for these individuals who had never considered higher education, to be able to enter and complete a meaningful degree.”

Furthermore, through this merger, Dr. Rule hopes to address and possibly remedy the bachelor degree gap. “There’s a gap between what our employers are asking us to supply and a number of bachelor degrees that Washington schools are able to produce in those areas, particularly in areas of STEM,” explained Rule, “Bellevue College partnering with WSU is ideally situated at this time to step into that gap.”

BC and WSU will continue their discussions and iron out the details of the merger. “I can say with some certainty that we don’t know certainly what’s going to happen,” noted BC’s VP of Information Resources Russell Beard.

Although there are many questions about tuition, governance or affordability, “the bigger challenge for all of us is how do we take this to the next step,” explained Kerr. “I really think that’s the question that is driving us all forward and that has brought us together.”

“Both institutions are committed to access, to affordability and to excellence, and since we have a commonality of principle and mission there, I really look forward to seeing what the education collaboration can look like between our two institutions,” said Kerr.