Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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Colleges considering Sequim as destination

One group of citizens is looking to connect Sequim with more higher education opportunities.

The Sequim Institute for Higher Learning Futures, a new organization pioneered by Sequim City Councilor Ken Hays, resident Pat Johansen and recent transplant Dr. Gary Smith, continues to meet with colleges and universities on possible partnerships.

Smith, who has worked 40 years in higher education with several colleges and universities, told the Sequim City Council on June 9 that he's seen a high interest from Western Washington University in Bellingham and Prescott College in Prescott, Ariz.

"Interest is great in bringing something to Sequim," he said. "There's an opportunity to be innovative here. Sequim could serve as a model."

Dr. Earl Gibbons, vice provost for Western's extended education program, confirmed he's spoken with Smith while Western has identified Sequim as a potential site for its Academy for Lifelong Learning program.

Gibbons said the program "brings together active and engaged adults interested in pursuing intellectual interests for personal enrichment (as opposed to college credit or degrees)."

"In conversations with Mr. Smith, it became clear this is one of a number of fields of education of interest to the citizens of Sequim," he said. "It is also one Western can address most immediately."

Hays said he, Johansen and Smith have been in conversations for three months about the higher learning group.

"I think it's pivotal to our ultimate long-term success," he said. "We need to have a higher percentage of success of kids in public school. A presence of a higher education would inspire a change."

The higher learning group's goals, Hays said, are three parts.

The first is seeking an institution to help people with associate degrees or with substantial credits toward them to complete their bachelor's degrees. Secondly, they seek an institution offering focused and limited bachelor's degrees and master's level certificate/degree offerings.

Lastly, they seek "meaningful, relevant and vigorous lifelong learning offerings programs all linked in synergetic planning and benefiting all learners degree, certificate, credit seeking and non-credit seeking learners," as stated in their report to city councilors.

Smith said as part of the group's early efforts he's spoken to multiple local and higher learning leaders including Dr. Thomas Keegan, president of Skagit Valley College and former president of Peninsula College, about higher learning and its role in Sequim.

In his conversation with Keegan, Smith said he was asked how many locals would participate and he responded that people from all over will consider the unique opportunities in Sequim for their higher education needs.

As for any potential conflict between a new institution and Peninsula College, Smith said they only seek a partnership.

"We're not looking to replicate what Peninsula College is doing," he said. "We want to assess what the needs are. Not build a huge structure and have large overhead to start."

As part of their goals they plan to determine needs and wants via focus groups and surveys, he said.

So far, the higher learning group has an attorney committed to help it pro bono while they seek to become a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Smith said.

Hays said Smith gave them some first steps once they decided to form a group, which include forming an advisory committee and to approach agencies like the City of Sequim and community members for support.

Of those leaders Smith spoke with, Hays said 80-85 percent of feedback was positive.

Smith said he's meeting with more higher learning officials in the weeks to come.

Along with Western's Lifelong Learning program, Prescott College's leaders are interested in unique opportunities for adult learners, too, Smith said, and that its provost is coming to Sequim in July.

The Gazette could not reach the provost by press time.

Gibbons said Western recently established "Western on the Peninsulas" in Poulsbo to serve the Olympic and Kitsap regions in cooperation with Olympic College and Peninsula College.

Its faculty and degree programs will be based out of Poulsbo with its initial degree programs General Management, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies starting in the fall.

Western offers the same two science degrees at Peninsula College.

From here, Smith said they intend to seek broad education options with high touch, on campus, and high tech online courses, right away and for the future while evolving to the community's needs.

"We want the community to paint the picture," he said.


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