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Lawmakers want 4-year college

Nine Kitsap County lawmakers have signed a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire in support of a study to evaluate the needs of a four-year college program in the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas.

The letter requests Gregoire’s support by reminding her of the pledge to grant an additional 8,000 baccalaureate degrees statewide by 2010 and 10,000 more by 2020.

“We believe the future success of our region’s economy and of our children depends on it being part of that higher education solution,” the letter reads. “We have an acute need for a more highly educated workforce.”

The $497,000 study would be conducted by the Higher Education Coordination Board and would provide recommendations to the Legislature.

“The study will document the need for additional opportunities in the health professions, which could benefit us all right now,” said Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island).

The idea is to start small and leverage current resources. This fall, Olympic College began offering a four-year nursing degree under the auspices of the University of Washington-Tacoma.

Rockefeller said the study could lead to the approval of Olympic College as a four-year college, and the ability to offer degrees in any subject.

Aside from nursing, the availability of an engineering degree would directly plug into one specific local hiring need.

“The Navy Shipyard hires 250 engineering degree holders each year,” Rockefeller said. “They hire from all around the country. If we can supply this need locally it will benefit the community and they won’t have to go out of state to fill these positions.”

“There is a need and we have a local institution that can fill that need,” Rockefeller said of Olympic College, noting that the goal is not to build a local university.

“We need to find a way to expand the four-your degree options within the community college systems,” said Rep Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton). “It’s not just Olympic College. We should encourage this expansion across the state.”

Haigh agrees the colleges need to identify the areas of highest demand — such as nursing and engineering — before choosing degree programs.

Heavier traffic makes the situation more crucial, according to Sen. Tim Sheldon, (D-Potlatch).

“We need to have higher education available to our residents,” he said. “Kitsap County has the longest commute in the state, and Mason County has the second longest commute. People need access to the ability to earn a degree.”

The nine local legislators have all promised to push this study during the 2008 session, stating in the letter to Gregoire that “...this is a top budgetary priority for each of us and our constituents. Providing baccalaureate access in our region would be the cornerstone of our economic growth and transformation.”

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