On Thursday, the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges approved the proposal for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree through Grays Harbor College, alongside South Puget Sound Community College.
The proposal was accepted following a briefing on Wednesday, when staff were able to share the benefits of a collaboration between Grays Harbor and South Puget Sound.
In September 2014, the State Board adopted a revised approval process, selection criteria, and application materials for community and technical colleges seeking to offer an applied baccalaureate program. In 2021, this process expanded to include an approval process for bachelor of science in computer science degrees. The final step in the approval process requires State Board action on the college’s application to offer the proposed applied baccalaureate degree.
Details on the degree approved by the board this week were presented in February 2023, when initial planning was approved and that process has been undertaken from the schools to develop a program to serve students from within the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Region of Washington (specifically Grays Harbor, Pacific, northern Lewis, Thurston, and southern Mason counties).
It was stated that in designing this degree, it is the mission of both colleges to support student success and respond to the needs of the region and the communities served.
Though graduates will be able to work anywhere, the program is being designed specifically to meet high demand, high wage job and career opportunities in the region.
With the Washington State Legislature’s 2021 passage of SSB 5401, it authorized community and technical colleges to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Science, noting significant shortfalls in the number of Washington graduates available to fill technology-sector jobs in-state.
The BS in CS degree program at SPSCC and GHC, is designed to serve rural, low-income communities and working adults through online and remote access.
While South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) will initially grant the BS in CS degree, students from Grays Harbor College (GHC) will be able to transfer into the upper-division program through an agreement that provides admission for graduates with GHC degrees: AS-T Track 2, CS DTA/MRP, or the in-development Associate in Computer Science focused on Network Operating Security Systems.
Documents presented to the board state that according to the Washington Employment Security Department, for the period of 2019 through 2024, graduates of a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science will find over 1,900 annual computer science and information technology job openings in our region. These jobs are stated to provide annual wages ranging from approximately $43,000 a year to as much as $131,819/year.
A survey of potential students done as part of the process indicated a high level of student interest in the subject area that had been identified previously by industry partners.
South Puget Sound Community College offers more than 60 degree and certificate options, including one bachelor’s degree program. Grays Harbor College offers more than 30 degree options, including three bachelor’s programs.
Currently, the only option for a student to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science in the South Puget Sound Community College and Grays Harbor College service areas is to transfer to either The Evergreen State College or Saint Martin’s University.
While these institutions are less than 10 miles from Olympia, they are over 50 miles from Aberdeen, and this significantly limits students’ options in the coastal communities to advance their education let alone their career options and opportunities.
As noted by the board, despite bachelor of science-level computer science programs at Saint Martin’s University and The Evergreen State College, there are more job openings annually in the region (1,900 to 2,300 annually depending on the period projected) than Bachelor of Science in Computer Science graduates (estimated at 50-60 graduates per year currently based on Education Research & Data Center analysis).
The goal, as identified in planning documents, would be to launch the Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science by Fall quarter 2024, although there are steps to finalize before implementation.
GHC President Dr. Cari Schiffner told KXRO, “While there is still work to be done before GHC will be ready to offer the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, the State Board’s decision to approve our degree proposal with South Puget Sound Community College is a big step forward. The State Board was given the authorization to confer bachelor of science degrees relatively recently, so today’s decision is very exciting news! I am proud of the faculty and staff at GHC who have had a hand in this work, especially our faculty members including Jamie Reino, Terri Bell, Alison Criswell, and Tom Kuester, and our team in the office of Instruction including Evi Buell, Paulette Lopez, Marjie Stratton, and Nicole Lacroix.”
GHC is developing the lower-division courses needed to support these associate-level pathways.
Long-term, as GHC gains the capacity and local demand, the colleges would look to transition into a formal collaboration where a student could start and finish the BS in CS degree at either institution.
This would be South Puget Sound Community College’s second bachelor’s degree program and Grays Harbor College’s fourth bachelor’s degree program in addition to the current Bachelor of Applied Science degrees in Teacher Education, Forest Resource Management, and Organizational Management.