GHC looks at offering 4-year degree

Grays Harbor College is looking to add a bachelor’s of applied science degree program over the next year or so. It would be the first time the college has hosted a 4-year degree program on their own.

College officials are currently working with the Hoquiam Business Association to gather input on the development of the program, specifically what kind of degree would be most beneficial for organizations and employers on the Harbor.

“We’ve been considering it remotely for the last year or so, but it’s really been within the last three months or so that we started considering it more seriously and decided to do this (work with the HBA),” said Ed Brewster, president of Grays Harbor College. “We began looking at the process a few years ago, and we surveyed people who said that if they were offered a 4-year degree pathway that people understood, that they would be more inclined to enroll with us.”

Currently the college offers associate degrees, or two-year degrees, in many technical areas such as welding, automotive technology, carpentry, nursing and criminal justice. It works with universities like the Evergreen State College on certain programs — like a bachelor’s in liberal arts— in helping to prepare students to transfer to a program elsewhere, but there is currently no local option for a 4-year degree. Brewster said many community colleges across the state are also trying to branch out in the same way by adding their own bachelor of applied science degree program, and sees it as having a very positive effect on the college and the community.

“It’s a major change for the college, and we won’t leave our current mission of serving the (local) workforce’s basic academic needs and transfer needs,” he said. ” This is just one more way we can serve the community.”

The first step for the college in starting the process is identifying what kind of need exists, and substantiating that need with data, which will be presented to the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

“The challenge is we have to be able to show a positive labor market and we need responses,” said Jeb Thornton, the director of the TRiO student support program at Grays Harbor College. Thornton is in charge of gathering surveys from the community. “But, quite frankly, everyone is so busy doing business it’s been hard to get responses.”

Along with the HBA, Thorton is working in conjunction with Greater Grays Harbor Inc. and has been working with individual business owners who are sharing the survey with their own business associations in the area.

So far, he said, there are a number of responses regarding which degree would be most useful to businesses around the Harbor, including accounting, fire science, environmental health and safety management, electrical engineering, human resources and case management.

“We know we may need to make it broad,” he said, adding that in addition to job titles, they are asking employers to list competencies they need and whether they would mind if the degree was titled differently, but still established that an individual had learned the same skills. The idea about the college hosting a 4-year degree program came from a group of people, including Thornton, who were discussing what they might do to help the community. They broached the topic with Brewster, who agreed to pursue it further.

“It was kind of a surprise,” Thornton said. “He (Brewster) is so interested in finding what he can do to make the school better fit the needs of the community.”

Especially with the state of the economy, selecting a degree that suits the community’s needs would be the most viable option, not only because of the good it might do for Grays Harbor, but also because it would be more economically sustainable for the college.

“We’d have to make it pay for itself,” said Brewster. “We’d have to be able to pay for it out of the resources we could assemble, so primarily tuition.”

While the tuition rate for the potential degree would be the standard rate for a regional university — like Eastern or Western Washington University — it would be more than the current standard tuition at Grays Harbor College, according to Brewster. He said currently 70 percent of the college’s students are on some form of financial aid and have a variety of scholarships.

“It’s more about what the community needs and being a distance from any other college for people we really believe, and Jeb works with a lot of students directly, who know that they are place-bound, and can’t leave here and could possibly come to Grays Harbor College to complete a degree,” he said.

The Board of Community and Technical Colleges could say the college still must demonstrate more need before it is approved for the program, Brewster said, adding it is more than likely the application may not go through the first time.

“There will be a lot of feedback about the application and we’ll have to modify and edit it, it’s sort of standard in the process and there could be some bumps along the road in there,” he said. “In my mind, we’re shooting for fall of 2014. I’m hoping we can get something in place by then.”

If the college gets approval for the program, it will start with the one degree option and see how it works before possibly adding more 4-year degrees.

“We’re talking about a whole other level of education,” said Brewster. “Once we qualify at that level, then we’ll be able to offer other kinds of (similar) programs.”