Washington State University Vancouver and the University of Washington Tacoma would be allowed to admit freshman and sophomore students under the terms of a proposal that was approved Jan. 27 by the state Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board put off for a year a decision on the future of WSU Tri-Cities and UW Bothell.

If the board’s recommendations are implemented by the Legislature and governor, students would be able to enroll as freshmen at both WSU Vancouver and UW Tacoma, and graduate as seniors without having to earn lower-division credits from another college or university.

In the meantime, WSU Tri-Cities was approved to provide lower division courses to upper division students who need them. This will help transfer students address gaps in their lower division courses as they pursue their degrees from WSU.

The recommendations and focus now shift to the Legislature, which will make the actual decision. Hearings were scheduled for the week of Jan. 31-Feb. 4.

WSU Tri-Cities wants to add lower division courses and admit freshmen and sophomores to help support new programs that, in part, will be developed through collaboration with the nearby Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

WSU took a strong position in favor of a continued research mission for both branch campuses, said Larry Ganders, assistant to the WSU president in Olympia. In fact, the board accepted the recommendation from both campuses that they remain part of WSU.

For Vancouver the board recommended that it develop as a metropolitan campus within the WSU system. “That designation leaves the campus and the university free to expand research as well as degree programs that are particularly important to the local community” said Hal Dengerink, chancellor of WSU Vancouver.

WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Larry James told the board that the rare opportunity to partner with PNNL and leverage federal resources “is something that not only will benefit the institution and the Tri-Cities, but the entire state.”

The recommendations are in response to legislation enacted last year (HB 2707) that aimed toward clarifying the role, mission and future development of the state’s research university branch campuses. The new law directed each institution to conduct a self-study and report to the HECB, which was asked to submit recommendations and policy options to the Legislature and governor in January.

The state established research university branch campuses in 1989 to afford students greater access to baccalaureate and graduate degree programs in regions that did not have public four-year universities.

The HEC Board report is available at http://www.hecb.wa.gov/boardmtgs/documents/dec10-04.BranchCampus-final.pdf.

— Compiled in part from reports by HEC Board Communications Director Kris Betker and Tri-City Herald newspaper reporter Chris Mulick.