Washington state is home is a large variety of post-secondary higher education institutions. The large majoriy of enrollment in higher education occurs among 2- and 4-year public colleges, universities and community colleges, but enrollment in private schools is on the rise and now accounts for a significant percentage of enrollment in higher education throughout the state.
There are currently six public bachelor degree awarding colleges and universities in Washington. Each of these public higher education institutions is governed by either a board of trustees or board of regents, whose membership is appointed by the Governor and radified by the state Senate.
There are two general categories of four-year higher education institutions: comprehensive and research. Comprehensive colleges and universities provide baccalaureate and master's level education programs, while research institutions (usually universities) offer baccalaureate, master's, doctoral and professional degrees–and it goes without saying that research institutions support research activities.
Historically, research universitie have focused primarily on graduate level education and research. However, research universities in Washington are producing a growing number of bachelor degrees. In addition to the state's six research campuses, there are 10 satellite learning centers and a well-established distance learning online envirnonment that support the higher education system in Washington.
There are several benefits to attending a research university. Some students complain that professors focused on research tend to be less focused on teaching their students. While this may occur on occassion, we believe it to be the exception. Most professors who are serious about research have a tendancy to carry their passion for their work into the classroom. In fact, some of the most inspiring professors tend to be those who are heavily involved in research. Another benefit of attending a research institution is that faculty who are involved in regular research are more in touch with the latest and greatest breaking developments in their industry and incorporate their unique knowledge and expertise into classroom discussion and coursework-which makes for a much more interesting class than one covering a remix of textbook topics.
Greater opportunity for internships and collaborative research with experts, a larger range of majors and disciplines taught, a more energized faculty, state-of-the-art facilities, regular interaction with graduate students, the chance to take graduate level courses, name reputation, and superior career networking opportunities are other benefits associated with attending a major research university.
The following are the Washington's six research universities:
- University of Washington-Seattle
- Washington State University-Pullman
Comprehensive Universities and Colleges
In addition to six research universities, Washington is home to four comprehensive higher education institutions. While all comprehensive colleges and universities grant academic degrees in a variety of subjects they can differ dramatically in size and makeup. Some have more than twenty-five thousand students, while other have fewer than five thousand. Some offer graduate programs at the master's and Ph.D. levels, while others focus entirely on undergraduate baccalaureate programs. Some resemble research institutions, others liberal arts schools. As you can see, comprehensive institutions, while similar, can be very, very different.
Across the board, comprehensive colleges and universities tend to focus more on teaching and less on research than traditional research universities. Professors at comprehensive institutions are typically required to conduct three to four courses a semester, which limits the amount of time they can spend on scholarly research. In addition, the pressure to publish at comprehensive universities tends is usually not as intense as it is at research institutions. But again, teaching requirements and research expectations can vary quite a bit from one institution to the next.
However, some of the same characteristics of comprehensive universities that make them less attractive to some students make them more attractive to others. Whereas professors at research universities are under intense pressure to perform scholarly research and publish there work, professors at comprehensive institutions are under less pressure to publish and often have more time to focus on their students. Many comprehensive colleges and universities are ranked at the top of the list by their students when it comes to the overall educational experience.
Comprehensive colleges and universities in Washington include:
- Central Washington University (Ellensburg)
- Eastern Washington University (Cheney)
- Evergreen State College (Olympia)
- Western Washington University (Bellingham)
In order to protect individuals from deceptive, even fraudulent, education practices and offerings, state law requires the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) of Washington State to review and authorize each individual degree-granting higher education institution operating in the state. However, certain institutions, known as �exempt' institutions, do not require extensive review and/or authorization. These include:
- Public colleges and universities
- Private higher education institutions with long-standing and exemplary records, which include the schools belonging to the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW).
- Institutions that offers only religious training. (Exemption status is reviewed every two years.)
- Institutions that provide degree programs exclusively to federal employees at a federal site. (Exemption status is reviewed every two years.)
- Institutions with limited education offerings may receive conditional waiver status. (Waiver status is reviewed every two yeas.)
In total, there are 68 degree-granting higher education institutions that have been reviewed and authorized to operated in Washington, which include 29 for-profit, 31 non-profit and 8 out-of-state public schools. Several of these institutions are based outside of Washington or in other countries. Authorized institutions are required to be reauthorized every two years in order to continue operating in Washington. A comprehensive list of authorized institutions can be found at www.wsac.wa.gov/colleges-and-institutions-washington.
Private Career Schools
There are several private career schools-that offers primarily career-oriented degrees and training programs-with locations throughout the state of Washington. Just a few examples of these institutions include nursing schools, massage therapy schools and automotive technical schools. Private career schools offering associate degree programs must be accredited by a recognized accrediting agency. Those providing only certificate, diploma and professional licensure programs must be licensed by the Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board (WTECB). A comprehenisve list of authorized career schools can be found at www.wtb.wa.gov/currentlicensedschools.asp.
2-year Community Colleges
In the past, two-year community colleges have been viewed as inferior to four-year colleges and universities for a number of reasons. However, in recent years community colleges have outperformed traditional four-year institutions in several ways.
First, the gap between the quality of education at community colleges and four-year universities has narrowed dramatically in recent years. Many of the courses and programs offered at community colleges are just as rigorous and academically challenging as those provided at universities. In addition, many within the professional world feel that the curriculum at major universities has grown to be somewhat irrelevant and that the programs at community colleges–while lacking in breadth and theory education–teach students real-world skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.
Second, professors at community colleges are entirely focused on teaching. Students at community colleges usually have the undivided attention of their instructors. It's not uncommon to hear complaints from students attending large universities that they have very little interaction with their professors and that class sizes are too large. Most community colleges have relatively small classes, where students have direct and meaningful interaction with their professors on a regular basis.
Third, community colleges typically offer programs that are much more flexible, whereby appealing to a larger group of working adults and professionals who want to pursue a higher education while they maintain their careers. Unlike most four-year colleges and universities, community colleges often offer evening and weekend courses that are comparable to those offered during the daytime.
Fourth, many in the past have complained that the quality of professors at community colleges is lacking, especially when compared to the quality of professors and instructors at four-year higher education institutions. While this complaint merits consideration, it has also been argued that the professors at community colleges, who are typically working professionals themselves, are more in touch with what's going on in their local business communities and are better equiped to prepare students for specific career fields at a local level.
Finally, the value proposition for attending a four-year college or university, as opposed to a two-year community college, is shifting. Not only are community colleges far less expensive than four-year universities, but students are able to enter they job market much sooner and start making money. They are also able to forgoe the expense of moving out of state, or out of their local community where living expenses are much lower.
You can review a comprehensive directory of two-year community colleges in the state of Washington at www.collegeatlas.org/washington-community-colleges.html