Idea #14: Move most important graduate-level programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane

Washington State University’s Health Sciences Building in Spokane’s University District illustrates the possibilities presented by graduate education in the Spokane area. Clearly something still is lacking. Could it be time to relocate programs from WSU Pullman to WSU Spokane?

Here’s a bold idea that might not attract too much popular support but should be considered as part of a broader package of ideas that would revitalize downtown Spokane and enhance educational opportunities and outcomes in our state. What if Washington State University moved a significant number of its graduate-level programs to its Spokane campus in the University District? This would be a bold move requiring a massive build-out on the Riverpoint campus, but it would also solve one of the bigger issues facing our city addressed in Idea #12; namely, a lack of quality graduate-level programs, especially in the sciences, engineering, and other STEM fields.

This deficit of graduate education might be a result of having such a large research institution located “nearby,” but not actually within our city limits. Pullman is nearly 75 miles away, which results in challenges for both the institution and the city in educating and retaining young urban professionals in order to attract attention from large companies looking to relocate.

Under this scenario, WSU Pullman would become primarily and undergradate-focused institution with some research being performed by professors and students of the remaining graduate programs, but also new and ground-breaking opportunities for undergraduate research in STEM fields. A focus on teaching would heighten the level of education offered by the institution and better educate undergraduates for a twenty-first century global economy. WSU Spokane, meanwhile, would expand into a full-service graduate student campus, meeting the needs of its students through high-quality labs and field work and a wealth of internship and externship opportunities in the local community. Perhaps a commuter rail service could connect the two campuses in order to drive synergies between the two offered products.

Of course, I don’t expect WSU Pullman to go undergraduate-only anytime soon, and I don’t expect WSU to move all graduate programs to Spokane. But I do think it raises an interesting question. How can WSU Spokane better provide graduate education in STEM fields to the region? Is it time for major STEM programs like computer engineering to be relocated to the Spokane campus? How can our statewide higher education system meet the needs of a globalizing twenty-first century economy? These are questions the community needs to be asking as it develops a vision for the University District and for the city moving forward.

Gonzaga wayfinding on point

Gonzaga has recently started upgrading its wayfinding signage. It's excellent.
Gonzaga recently began to upgrade its wayfinding signage. We think it’s excellent.

Gonzaga University is in the midst of an incredible growth spurt, with increased enrollment and the construction of a brand-new University Center to replace the aged (and now-demolished) COG. What better way to mark such transformation with a new universal wayfinding and signage scheme that feels modern, fresh, and thoughtful, but also traditional, intellectual, and refined.

Installation of the new signage began on the west end of campus near the Jundt Art Museum and the Tilford Center building. More signs will continue to go up across the university as signs are replaced and repaired. We think the upgraded signs could serve as a model for other universities, both in the area and nationally. And hey, STA and Riverfront Park could always use upgrades.

See another construction photo after the break.

Continue reading “Gonzaga wayfinding on point”

Idea #12: Build high-quality graduate programs (in diverse fields) at local universities

Gonzaga University offers a top-notch undergraduate experience, but their graduate programs lag painfully behind. Spokane’s long-term success in becoming a destination for young people hinges partially on high-quality graduate programs. (PHOTO: Dwayne Wright)

Myth: Spokane will never have young, urban professionals because young people tend to move away to go to school. Moreover, it does not have the jobs or the lifestyle opportunities to support them.

That myth has been told more than perhaps any other to describe the demise of culture in Spokane. But here’s the thing: it’s completely and utterly false. In terms of potential to attract the type of young, urban professionals that Spokane needs to thrive, we have as much or more than any other comparable city. We have four universities located within city limits, with Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University located in the University District downtown and Whitworth University holding up the fort in north Spokane. We have a low cost of living, an abundance of affordable housing, and  We great food, excellent shopping, and outstanding cultural opportunities right downtown and four seasons of recreation within as little as a five-minute drive (or less!) Everything seems to be right for Spokane to become an “it” place.

So why hasn’t it?

The answer is probably more complicated than just the issue of education, but education plays a big role. WSU Spokane focuses almost entirely on medicine and nursing, which are great, but hardly harness the innovation and creativity of students. (And, it should be noted, that’s probably for the best. The thought of a doctor innovating a new treatment off-the-cuff and without guidance conjures up frightening possibilities.) When they aren’t educating students for the healthcare profession, they’re providing MBAs and HPAs to professionals already in stable careers. Gonzaga University, meanwhile, has gutted its graduate engineering program, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on undergraduates. It’s the same story at EWU Spokane.

In order to grow our young, urban professional population and increase the availability of high-paying, high-quality jobs, our universities must broaden their scope and offer more, better graduate programs to more people.

I’m thinking of graduate engineering. I’m thinking of entrepreneurship. I’m thinking of computer science and engineering. I’m thinking of information systems. I’m thinking of economics. (There’s an innovation and high-tech economy in Spokane that sits just bubbling under the surface, waiting to be explored!)

The sooner Spokane, or better, the State of Washington, realizes this and provides benefits to universities for adding new programs, the better. We need graduate education in order to thrive, and the status quo will not cut it. It’s time to build graduate education in Spokane.

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