City, schools sign agreement to bring higher ed to Federal Way

Federal Way is one step closer to having a higher education facility to provide university classes to its residents.

City, school district, Highline College and University of Washington-Tacoma officials signed a memorandum of understanding Tuesday to work collaboratively toward bringing higher education classes to Federal Way.

“This really is a huge, momentous day,” Mayor Jim Ferrell said at the signing. “I’m really excited.”

The memorandum of understanding was signed by Ferrell, Federal Way Public Schools Superintendent Tammy Campbell, University of Washington-Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano and Highline College Acting President Jeff Wagnitz.

Ferrell said the memorandum of understanding is just a commitment by each of the parties to work together.

“Then it’s a matter of where we go from here,” Ferrell said.

According to the memorandum of understanding, each of the parties will “actively pursue off-campus higher education offerings to include associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees, certification/endorsements and graduate degree programs within the City of Federal Way.”

Former City Councilwoman Kelly Maloney was pleased with Tuesday’s signing of the memorandum of understanding as she has long wanted Federal Way residents to have the opportunity to obtain post-secondary education degrees. She initially began work on the idea with the city’s former mayor four years ago and again with Ferrell.

“It’s going to be such a great partnership,” Maloney said, adding so many residents face barriers to receiving a college education in the city. “This is a way to offer more citizens that opportunity.”

Through the process leading up to the memorandum of understanding, the city conducted conversations with different parties, including Highline officials and representatives from different universities.

The city also spent $75,000 for a consultant to conduct a higher education needs assessment to see if some sort of program was warranted in Federal Way.

The 64-page report, released in September of 2016, concluded there were arguments for the presence of such a facility in the city. With the city, Highline, UW-Tacoma and school district officials all supportive of the idea, the parties decided to move forward with putting their commitment in writing.

At Tuesday’s memorandum signing, University of Washington-Tacoma Assistant Vice Chancellor for External Relations Michael Wark said it made sense for UW-Tacoma to establish a presence in Federal Way, despite the city’s proximity to other institutions, such as Highline, Green River and Pierce colleges and UW-Tacoma.

“We already have a strong connection to Federal Way,” he said, adding more than a quarter of UW-Tacoma’s students come from South King County, with a large number of them coming from Federal Way. “So, to us, it made sense to increase our presence and further expand our access to Federal Way.”

Pagano echoed those sentiments, stating, of the high schools where students feed into UW-Tacoma, at least a couple are from Federal Way.

“So, we’re in Federal Way already,” he said, adding the college also has a strong partnership with Federal Way Public Schools through the Pathway to Promise program.

In addition, Pagano said, having a physical presence in Federal Way will also allow the college to better serve its adults wishing to obtain four-year degrees, many of whom already have other commitments such as families or jobs or have difficulty traveling out of the city for educational opportunities. Along with a working relationship between the school district, as well as Highline College, access to higher education is greatly improved with a facility in Federal Way.

Lisa Skari, Highline College vice president of institutional advancement, agrees having a higher education presence in Federal Way again makes sense. She said Highline used to have a facility in the city but, because of budget cuts during the economic downturn, had to pull out.

College officials have long wanted to return to Federal Way in some form, however, and, with the potential for higher education classes in the city again, Highline can be involved. Community colleges and four-year universities already have a 2+2 model in place in Washington, where students begin their higher education pursuits at the community colleges, during which time they satisfy their general education requirements their first two years, before transferring to a university to take their upper division or specialty classes and receive their degrees.

“So these articulation agreements have been in place for years,” Skari said of the 2+2 model. “It’s well-oiled. It works.”

Campbell said in December having a higher education center in Federal Way would be a game changer.

“You can’t have a university here without K-12 participation,” Campbell said.

As outlined in the memorandum of understanding, by signing the document, each of the parties would also pursue, among other things, creating more career pathway programs from Federal Way high schools to post-secondary opportunities or careers, as well as giving high school students the opportunity to enroll in “extension and enrichment coursework.”

Not only would a university benefit students, it would also benefit the district’s 3,000 employees, Campbell said, allowing faculty to take classes locally to obtain certifications and endorsements required.

“You’ve got a work force poised to take advantage of a university here,” Campbell said.

With the memorandum of understanding in place, outlining the different parties’ commitment, a long-term plan has yet to be developed, something that doesn’t worry Ferrell, who thinks at least a few classes can be in place by 2018.

“All great journeys begin with some modest steps, and then we’ll grow from there,” Ferrell said.

While Campbell said it wouldn’t be a long-term solution, she thinks it would be possible for the school district to offer a couple of facilities up as classrooms as a start.

The city will have to appeal to the state Legislature for more permanent accommodations.

“That’s what that MOU is all about, that we’re ready to work toward this goal,” Ferrell said. “I just think that this is really, truly exciting for our community.

While Skari agrees a 2018 start is possible, she said many logistical issues need to be addressed in order to expand beyond a few classes, not least of which is deciding on a long-term facility.

She said other future decisions to be made are picking and choosing which programs would be offered in Federal Way, who is going to teach the classes and how will the teachers and faculty’s salaries and health care be addressed.

“The biggest challenge is how are we going to fund this,” Skari said. “There’s going to be commitments on all sides. … How is the facility piece going to come together? The financial implication is going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.”

According to the memorandum of understanding, each of the entities will share responsibilities in moving forward, including:

— Identify higher education programming and class offerings appropriate for the regional economic market and student demand;

— Create additional programming for career pathways from high schools in Federal Way Public Schools and potentially surrounding school districts to post-secondary education and/or careers;

— Provide opportunities for career advancement for Federal Way Public Schools faculty for certification and endorsements ensuring that all staff are highly trained and qualified;

— Afford opportunities for Federal Way Public Schools secondary scholars to enroll in extension and enrichment coursework, (i.e. college in the high school);

— Provide opportunities for and access to post-secondary and adult education for community members in one of the most diverse cities in the state thereby removing barriers that prevent access to education;

— Provide the best academic faculty to maximize the quality of class-offerings and higher education programming;

— Identify present and future locations appropriate to accommodate higher education facilities to support student and public access;

— Identify and engage strategic community and regional partners who have interests in higher education in the region;

— Engage in activities to identify, recruit and market higher education programming in order to maximize student access;

— Make a commitment to securing financing for future operations and facilities to accomplish the higher education initiative; and

— Establish a community-based board of citizens and educators to explore how to best engage the community, assess on-going community and employer need, determine student demand, secure resources for on-going capital and operating needs, and advocate for higher education in Federal Way.

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