Trip to Chicago contributes to BC-WSU discussions

Recently, representatives from Bellevue College and Washington State University embarked on a trip to academic institutions in Chicago to research ways of improving educational opportunities for students and, ultimately, gain an understanding on how the BC and WSU merger might work.

Russ Beard, BC’s Vice President of IT, is the head of the group that went to Chicago. Beard said that there was “no reason to reinvent the wheel” when it came to creating a system to benefit students.  Since Beard and other members of the group had contacts in Chicago, Beard believed that visiting schools there was a natural first step.

On their research trip, Beard and other representatives visited Depaul University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and City Colleges of Chicago. Beard mentioned that Chicago schools have something called the Guaranteed Admissions Transfer, or GAT, which allows students to be accepted in their school of choice while accumulating credits at a community college. Beard said that although BC has Direct Transfer Agreements, which are similar, the GAT goes beyond by allowing students to get a student ID and attend events at the school they choose to go to before they’re officially enrolled.

Beard said that a system to benefit students was something he had envisioned but not seen before at BC. He said that in preliminary discussions, individuals from different schools already had relationships due to their common goals, which he said emphasized, “how important this conversation really is.”

“Let’s not just focus on degrees,” said Beard, who believes that academic institutions should not only be focused on student admissions and graduation, but also on helping students enter careers that pay a living wage.

Colleen Kerr, who is WSU’s VP of Government Relations and External Affairs, was WSU’s representative during the trip to Chicago. Through the research trip to Chicago, Kerr hoped to identify patterns and best practices to “improve articulation between two and four year schools.”

Kerr noticed that the academic system in Chicago worked through the alignment of several community colleges, and overall helped students move from colleges to careers.  She regarded it as a “very impressive model.”

Although BC President Dave Rule did not attend the trip, he had appointed Russ Beard as the team leader, and the one in charge of possible future developments in BC’s system of education. Rule chose Beard because he had shown himself to be good at project management, and he was a Washington native who knew relevant institutional and state history.

In Rule’s vision of the college, BC needs to continue serving the community since open enrollment colleges in the area are “few and far between.” Aside from not entering into higher education, Rule also believes that some are unable to attain degrees or pursue careers with the degree that they’ve obtained. According to Rule, local industries with a need for higher-level training are unable to find employees from the area and therefore import employees with baccalaureates from other states.

“Higher education needs to change,” said Rule and he hopes education will be able to meet the demands of the students and the local community.