Two area universities are joining forces to generate more engineers while simultaneously guaranteeing a stream of students in future years.
Washington State University Tri-Cities and the private Heritage University in Toppenish will launch a new education track this fall. Students will earn a two-year pre-engineering degree at Heritage before continuing on for their bachelor’s in either civil, mechanical or electrical engineering at WSU Tri-Cities’ Richland campus.
Heritage anticipates enrolling about 15 students in the program in the next school year and is planning on that number growing with future classes.
Officials at both universities lauded the program, noting it will serve to bring more minorities, whom Heritage seeks to serve, into the engineering field.
It also means WSU Tri-Cities will be able to count on at least some students coming into its programs, a tactic other higher education institutions have pursued to shore up enrollment.
“It seemed like a win-win,” Michael Durst, director of Heritage’s pre-engineering program, told the Herald.
Engineering is a new realm for Heritage, a private nonprofit university with about 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students — most Hispanic and a significant minority Native American. But Durst said the university worked with WSU Tri-Cities for about a year on the concept, motivated by the direction of Heritage President John Bassett.
The new track will be math-intensive, provide students an internship where they develop and build solar-powered water heaters, and ensure all of a student’s credits can transfer to WSU Tri-Cities. The internships, in particular, are an important component to making sure students are fully prepared not only to earn a bachelor’s degree but to go out and get a job.
“The real intent is to give students what we call work credit,” Durst said.
More opportunities for hands-on learning accompanied by a high level of instruction will follow when the students move on to WSU Tri-Cities, said Joseph Ianelli, executive director of that university’s engineering and computer science programs.
This isn’t Heritage’s first partnership with another higher education institution. It teaches some courses at Columbia Basin College’s Pasco campus as part of a cooperative agreement. The two institutions are also working on a program where students could earn a bachelor’s degree in fields such as chemistry or history, taking courses from both Heritage and CBC instructors.
The new partnership is the latest way for WSU Tri-Cities, which has about 1,400 students, to attract potential students before they’ve even enrolled at the university. High school students will be able to participate in the Running Start program, which has generally only been available at the state’s community colleges, at the Richland campus and a few other regional public universities beginning this fall.
The partnership with Heritage was not part of a specific university-wide initiative to attract students, said Maegan Murray, a WSU Tri-Cities spokeswoman.
Iannelli “pursued this partnership because he knew how well it would fit into WSU Tri-Cities' goals to provide students with a polytechnic learning by doing educational experience," Murray said.
Such partnerships are only going to become more common, said CBC President Rich Cummins, as state support of higher education declines and institutions look for ways to survive.
“Who teaches what isn’t really important it all comes down to the four-year degree,” Cummins said.