By Brad Fisher and Mike Kluse, Special to the Tri-City Herald
Washington State University announced last week that enrollment at the Tri-Cities campus remained flat this year, but these numbers do not tell the full story of WSU Tri-Cities and the many things we have to celebrate about our local campus.
WSU Tri-Cities has gone through significant growth and change over the past several years and has fostered closer ties to its alumni, the community, region and state.
WSU Tri-Cities continues to be the most diverse campus in the WSU system. This fall, nearly 23 percent of the overall enrollment is made up of students of color, with the majority being Latino.
Of even greater significance is the fact that 36 percent of the new freshman class and 28 percent of the new transfers are minority students, which is by far the highest of any WSU campus.
These growing enrollments put us one step closer to qualifying for federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
Such designation would allow the campus to apply for new funding for scholarships, student support services and research and internship opportunities.
These programs would serve the campus' diverse communities and would provide much-needed support services that would improve the success of all students.
The student population on our campus is significantly different from more traditional campuses, and not only in its diverse student body. More than half of our students are the first in their families to attend college, 40 percent come from low-income families, nearly all students hold at least one job and many are supporting families.
For these students, the astronomical rise in the cost of tuition has created a real barrier to access to education.
Thanks to the generous support of the community, the campus awarded 203 scholarships to 179 students, totaling $370,000 for this academic year.
This was a 67 percent increase over last year and clearly demonstrates the critical need for scholarships to support students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to achieve their educational goals.
The challenges for students are great, but this creates a tremendous opportunity for the Tri-Cities to foster an environment in which our community's young adults thrive socially and economically.
Students help drive the economic engine for the area. They purchase goods and services. They volunteer in local agencies. They serve as interns in local businesses.
Most importantly, the majority remain to live and work in our area after graduating. Their vitality is a resource for all of us.
Scott Carson, vice chairman of the WSU Board of Regents and former President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, recently visited the campus to celebrate the generous gift of an engineering laboratory building from EnergySolutions.
"I look at WSU Tri-Cities and see a critical link to the economy of the world, with some of the greatest minds and greatest opportunities. The WSU Tri-Cities campus holds a special place inside the WSU system," Carson said.
"It's at the heart of one of the intellectual centers in the world. We need to excite young people about the opportunities the future holds for them, so we don't miss a single mind, a single intellect, which could change the world."
We couldn't agree more. WSU Tri-Cities is a vibrant and growing campus that plays a critical role in meeting the economic needs of our region, our state -- and with community support, the world.
* Brad Fisher, is senior vice president and branch director for RBC Wealth Management and chairman of the WSU Tri-Cities Advisory Council. Mike Kluse is director of the Pacific Northwest Laboratory and vice chairman of WSU Tri-Cities Advisory Council.