Federal Way students may be able to take college classes closer to home if plans for a satellite higher education center of the University of Washington Tacoma fall into place.
The center, a joint partnership of UWT, the city of Federal Way, Highline College and Federal Way Public Schools, would offer advanced level courses necessary for degrees that are in demand by employers in Pierce County and south King County. Recent high school graduates and adult learners would be the target audience.
The partners signed an agreement last month pledging to make plans for classes that match the regional economic market and create career pathways for adults, high schoolers and college-age students.
While a recent study highlighted concerns about whether potential Federal Way-area students can afford college, backers of the plan say they are optimistic that demand for the center exists.
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According to university officials, 28 percent of UWT students live in the Federal Way and South King County area.
Federal Way Mayor James Ferrell said he had previously been in talks with Washington State University about opening a branch campus in his city, partly because he thought UWT wouldn’t want to open a satellite so close to its home base. But then UWT officials approached him about opening a higher education center in Federal Way.
Once the parties develop more detailed plans about what programs to offer and how to pay for them, they plan to go to the Legislature to seek funding in the capital budget, Ferrell said.
Ferrell and UWT officials hope the college has at least an office open in Federal Way by 2018.
“It’s an ambitious plan,” said Melissa Lavitt, the executive vice chancellor at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Potential locations include the pedestrian-friendly downtown core of mixed-use buildings, a park and a performing arts center that are under development by Federal Way. Farrell said he hasn’t ruled other locations, including the former Weyerhaeuser headquarters off Interstate 5.
“Nothing is out of the question right now,” Ferrell said.
Mark Pagano, the UWT chancellor, said branching out to Federal Way will help the school further its goal of reaching non-traditional adult students and college-hopeful high schoolers.
“Access is the center of our core values,” Pagano said. “(This is) a way to carry that access to the next level.”
In a study last year commissioned by the city, MGT Consulting Group estimated that the city is most in need of programs that would help build its workforce in the management, financial and education sectors.
That study also identified a possible hurdle: About 76 percent of representatives from 47 Federal Way area companies said that financial constraints of residents may be an obstacle to their seeking higher education.
“The cost of tuition is a concern,” Jane Parker, the former director of human services at Woodstone Credit Union said recently.
Sixty percent of Federal Way’s K-12 students are enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, indicating that financial constraints could prevent some of them from attending college, she said. Between 2010 and 2014, per capita income in Federal Way was stagnant despite growth in King County overall, according to the MGT report.
UWT chancellor Mark Pagano said he’s convinced that the latest effort will succeed where others have failed. A Federal Way extension of Highline College closed its doors in 2009 because of budget cuts from Olympia during the recession.
“We will do it in stages,” Pagano said. “We will start with the present, then find the areas of demand. … That’s why we do the research ahead of time.”
Michael Simpson: 253-597-8670, @mlintonsimpson