Why I’m seeking state funding for Federal Way higher-ed campus

Federal Way is a city that has grown in more ways than one. Its population has risen from nearly 68,000 in 1990 to more than 96,000 today, an increase of about 42 percent. Its economy has expanded significantly, with the health-care, retail and service industries providing a large portion of local jobs.

During this time, Federal Way Public Schools also has brought new facilities online to accommodate and continue providing a strong education for a diverse K-12 population that has grown to roughly 24,000 students.

While a good basic education is available right here in our community, Federal Way lacks a higher-education campus that would allow new high-school graduates and other local residents to take courses and earn a degree here.

The nearest college choices are in east Auburn, Des Moines and downtown Tacoma – not the same as having a higher-education center right at hand, which one might expect in a community as large as Federal Way, the ninth most-populated city in Washington.

For years, many 30th Legislative District residents and leaders have told me they would like to see higher-education classes or programs offered in Federal Way.

I agree. It’s time to establish a higher-education presence in Federal Way. I’m aiming to take the first step this year by requesting an $800,000 appropriation from the Legislature.

If the funding is included in the supplemental operating budget that emerges from the 2018 legislative session, the City of Federal Way, Federal Way Public Schools, the University of Washington-Tacoma and Highline College already have a plan of action.

They’ve agreed that the money would be used to lease space for administrative offices and two classrooms, equipment, and for other expenses needed to begin offering courses there. UW-T and Highline would not be asking for funding for staffing. Classes would be taught by existing professors, adjunct faculty, graduate students and use distance-learning technology when possible.

My hope is this would serve as a kick start toward a building in Federal Way capable of supporting Running Start and career-development services, as well as programs in health care and nursing, education, information services and accounting/finance. Such programs could produce educated workers for Virginia Mason Medical Center, St. Francis Hospital and other local medical-care providers.

A higher-education center in Federal Way that offers associate and baccalaureate degrees, as well as certification and graduate-degree programs, would not only benefit local residents – it would also enhance the skilled workforce needed to sustain a competitive and viable economy for Federal Way and our surrounding area. That’s why a higher-education center is part of the city’s economic-development initiative.

I shared my budget request with Senate budget writers very early this session, and I’m working with them in hopes that it will be included on the list of budget adjustments the Senate proposes.

Federal Way is ready for a higher-education campus to come to town. Hopefully, the Legislature this year will agree.