Community's future tied to success of WSU branch

March 7, 2012 

Washington State University Tri-Cities exists because of community support.

That's a fact. There wouldn't be a four-year university in Richland without the community's unified effort to define a vision for higher education in the Tri-Cities and sell it to lawmakers in Olympia.

The campus thrives five years after opening its doors to freshman and sophomores because that support is ongoing. With the community's help this year, WSU Tri-Cities awarded more than 200 scholarships, totaling $370,000.

But more help is needed.

Continuing need is the nature of any institution, and it's especially true here, where the branch campus fills a unique niche. No other state school does more to provide an education to those who might otherwise be locked out of the American dream.

Almost 23 percent of the students at WSU Tri-Cities are Hispanic or members of another minority group. That's a growing trend -- with 36 percent of this year's freshman class comprised of minority students.

More than half of the students are the first in their families to attend college, and 40 percent come from low-income families.

Many depend on financial aid, but they are not slackers. Almost all students at WSU Tri-Cities work to support themselves and their families. Many hold more than one job in addition to their studies.

But each year, it's more difficult to survive in school on hard work alone.

Tuition is expected to reach $10,874 for the 2012-13 school year -- a 16 percent increase over current rates and 73 percent more than five years ago, when the branch campus welcomed its first freshman class.

That's a lot of money for middle class families. But for an individual at the federal poverty level, WSU tuition, fees and books exceed annual income.

The community has stepped up. Officials at the branch campus recently announced that donors have provided another $50,000 for new scholarships.

Thanks to the Hispanic Academic Achievers Program, Richland Kiwanis, the Curran Family Scholarship Endowment, Gesa Credit Union and Fluor for the additional money.

Thanks to all those who have already given, and a special thanks to those who will be writing checks in the weeks ahead.

Sharon Holden, director of advancement and regional development at the Richland campus, recently told Herald reporter Ty Beaver the school already has received more than 450 scholarship applications for the fall semester. That's more than double the number awarded this year.

A campaign is under way to raise another $250,000 to help meet the need. If any community can do it, it's this one.

Hope for a stable economy in the Tri-Cities depends on the sort of programs WSU is building here -- in biotechnology, energy, wine research and more.

WSU Tri-Cities will continue to grow and thrive because it's in everyone's interest to make it happen.

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