Doctoral degrees could be coming to Tacoma.
Under bills introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, branch campuses of the University of Washington and Washington State University would be able to offer doctorate programs. UW Tacoma officials say they are poised to start a program if the measure passes.
“The branch campuses embody some latent capacity, some untapped potential, to take these programs to areas of the state where there’s not as much access,” said Chris Thompson, director of state relations for the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which requested the bills.
Thompson said the proposals would remove a legal barrier to offering doctoral degrees, though it would not fund or set up any such programs.
He said the board had determined that adding the higher-level degrees to branch campuses would be a cost-effective way to grant more degrees in the state because many of the faculty members at branch campuses already are qualified to teach doctorate programs.
UWT spokesman Mike Wark said the Tacoma campus was hoping to offer a doctor of education degree program that would target school and college administrators and prepare nurses and other medical professionals to teach at community colleges.
“These are very busy people, so it’s hard for them to put the hours in,” Wark said of the professionals the program would be designed for. “To get one of these degree programs in the region would be very, very helpful.”
The Tacoma doctor of education program has gone through the UW approval process, he said, but this legislation would need to pass and the doctorate program would need to be approved by the Higher Education Coordinating Board before it could be offered.
Wark said UWT already surveyed people in the area who might be interested in access to an education doctorate program. Of the respondents, 81.9 percent said they would be moderately to very likely to pursue a doctorate program in the next five years, and 90 percent said location was a significant factor in deciding whether to do so.
Setting up an education doctorate program would not cost the state any money, Wark said, because it would be funded entirely from tuition.
Sen. Randi Becker, an Eatonville Republican and the sponsor of one of the bills, said she became interested in the issue two summers ago when she first began talking to UWT about setting up a program to certify more people to teach nursing and other medical programs at community colleges.
According to a 2008 report by the Washington Center for Nursing, the state will have a work force shortage of about 25,000 registered nurses by 2020 if there are no changes to health and education policy.
Wark said the UWT program was designed to take in 24 students in its first year. By its third year, the program would reach full enrollment at 72 doctoral-track students.
Under the proposed bills, the UW Bothell campus and the WSU branch campuses in Vancouver and the Tri-Cities also would be able to develop doctorate programs, subject to the approval of the Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee on Wednesday. A companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, has been introduced in the House.
Becker said she anticipated widespread support for her bill, which is co-sponsored by nine Democrats and two Republicans.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826