Poulsbo is emerging as a four-year college town

Western Washington University is offering four-year degree programs at Olympic College Poulsbo.  - File photo
Western Washington University is offering four-year degree programs at Olympic College Poulsbo.
— image credit: File photo

North Kitsap Herald staff

POULSBO — As orientation day neared for prospective students in the first undergraduate degree program offered at Olympic College Poulsbo, City Councilman Ed Stern looked for the words to describe his excitement.

“Remember what Joe Biden said when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act?,” Stern asked. “Well, this is a BFD for Poulsbo.”

At the orientation on March 12, however, that excitement apparently hadn’t yet caught on. About 10 students attended the orientation in OC Poulsbo’s Hern Lecture Hall to learn about the business administration degree that will be offered beginning in September at the newly created Western Washington University Center at OC Poulsbo.

Lynn Wells, an OC student, was preparing to commute to Edmonds Community College before the announced partnership with Western. Edmonds, she said, offers a similar business degree through Central Washington University. However, plans for a costly commute and long days for the self-described “seasoned student” changed with the OC program.

Priority application deadline for the program’s fall start is April 15.

Stern, president of the Puget Sound Regional Council Economic Development District Board and a longtime advocate of building high-tech and education opportunities in Poulsbo, said the offering of four-year degrees at OC Poulsbo is the beginning of the fulfillment of a vision of Poulsbo as a college town.

“A lot of people think of Poulsbo as a tourism town. They say, why not take it over the top, like Leavenworth? But the council doesn’t want it to be a tourist town. We want to continue to support tourism, but we’re not just ‘Little Norway.’ We’re lots of things, and we want to pursue that diversification.”

Poulsbo is also the home of Northwest College of Art and Design, which offers a bachelor of fine arts in visual communications.

Stern said a college presence will influence the city’s future direction, particularly in housing, activities and entertainment that are necessary to attract and sustain a younger, college-oriented population.

“One piece that is missing in Kitsap County is, we hurt for an appropriate culture to attract young people,” Stern said. “What we need here is a culture that supports young people in their 20s and 30s. When we talk about quality of life, ecotourism is one component but it isn’t enough. It isn’t the anchor.”

University degree programs could be influential in Poulsbo in other ways. Universities usually have resources, such as research, that are useful to communities. For example, Stern said WWU wants to offer a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy at OC Poulsbo. Students studying for that degree could engage in study of Liberty Bay that could be useful in protecting and improving the health of the local marine environment.

The creation of the university center at OC Poulsbo was unveiled on July 17, 2013, but Stern said it was the fulfillment of a vision that began in 1988.

While attending college in Poulsbo is more convenient, Wells said the cost of tuition will double for her. She will use grants and financial aid. Wells, who runs Aquatic Fanatics, a U.S. Masters swimming program in the North Kitsap Community Pool, would like to use the degree to start a second business. She also wouldn’t mind continuing school; Wells said she enjoys being a full-time student.

An undergraduate degree in engineering is offered at Olympic College’s main campus in Bremerton through Washington State University. Lower-course work is taught by OC staff, upper-course work is taught by university staff. Bringing in more offerings for degrees goes along with the City of Poulsbo’s comprehensive plan, said Stern, who served on the Olympic College NK Advisory Board in the early 1990s.

About 20 percent of OC Poulsbo’s enrollment in 2010 was nursing students, according to a previous Herald story, and about 60 percent of students were in transfer programs. The nursing degree was the first four-year degree program on the west side of the Puget Sound, Stern said. But the nursing program moved back to the main campus in Bremerton in 2010, and the Poulsbo campus has mainly seen high school students through Running Start and transfer students, Stern said.

In the city’s comprehensive plan, an objective is to promote a “college town,” Stern said. This includes providing housing “appropriate” for students.And a business degree would not just benefit those living in the north end of Kitsap, as people from around the area, including Bainbridge Island and Jefferson County, would have a more local option, Stern said.

Adding another degree opportunity on the Poulsbo campus will make it easier for students to juggle coursework with jobs, advocates say.

A four-year degree through Olympic College offers a “much better investment cost” than going to a university and graduating with debt, which could take decades to pay off, Stern said in an earlier story.

“I think it’s terrific,” Stern said. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”


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