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The WSU System Today

Guided by Our Land-grant Identity

Washington State University is the land-grant research institution for the state of Washington. Land-grant schools are uniquely charged by the federal government with educating students from a broad range of backgrounds, conducting scholarly inquiry in the “practical arts,” and actively sharing their expertise and knowledge with the state’s residents.

Today WSU functions as a statewide system. The land-grant identity remains core to the University’s functioning, and the institution’s achievements in this regard are significant. WSU has a decades-long reputation for development of wheat strains that can grow under a variety of challenging conditions. More recently, among other accomplishments, University researchers have developed a method to create 3D-printed bone implants; established a nationally recognized bread research facility that helps wheat farmers make informed decisions about which varieties to grow; created and refined a measure designed to reduce the potential of school truancies that has been adopted statewide; and created a web-based pesticide education resource accessible to the public. On a yearly basis about one-third of WSU’s freshman class consists of first generation college students, and the University provides extensive and all-encompassing support to help students adjust to college life. The University maintains Extension offices in each of the state’s 39 counties, and more than 1 million people participate annually in the programs offered through these offices. WSU research centers also are located in Mount Vernon, Prosser, Puyallup, and Wenatchee, all key agricultural areas.

Importantly, while developing the multi-campus system WSU retained its college-based academic structure under which a single department chair or school director is responsible for all faculty in the unit regardless of where they reside, and a single dean is responsible for all units in the college. This means that all faculty, regardless of work location, must meet the same standards for tenure and promotion. Deans share responsibility and authority for departments, schools, or academic programs offered jointly across two or more colleges. Deans share responsibility with chancellors for the success of components of departments, programs, or schools residing on another campus.

While acknowledging the existing academic structure, the University recognizes the need for and increasing value of multidisciplinary research. The complex societal problems that exist can only be adequately addressed through the input of individuals from many different disciplines. Academic administrators and those faced with funding decisions will need to continue identifying mechanisms that properly support critical research that cuts across existing academic structures.

The institution operates as an integrated university system, with all campuses adhering to the same set of goals, practices, and policies—known as One WSU. For example:

  • degree requirements are similar across campuses;
  • all instructors and researchers, regardless of their location, are considered part of one faculty; and,
  • the offices of student affairs and finance and administration are regarded as distinct but highly integrated components of the same administrative divisions.

The University has been redefining its administrative and operational structures to ensure delivery of an integrated set of services, while allowing each campus autonomy via the leadership of the chancellor and a clearly defined identity.

Growth in the Twenty-first Century

In the wake of the 2008-09 recession, WSU experienced rapid growth in enrollment and now has a record-large student body, with 31,607 students enrolled across the six campuses for fall semester 2019. As well, the University embarked on an ambitious expansion campaign during the past decade that expanded its statewide footprint, establishing a world-renowned center for the study of animal-to-human disease transmission, launching a medical school in Spokane in response to critical statewide shortages in primary care physicians, creating the Everett campus, initiating construction of a five-building life sciences complex in Pullman, and opening a wine science center at the Tri-Cities campus. WSU thus has made some notable strides in establishing itself as a top-tier public university that remains true to its land-grant mission.

The state of Washington has one of the more robust economies in the nation, and since 2014 has yearly experienced a positive net migration in excess of 50,000 people. The state Office of Financial Management expects the state’s population to increase by 1.6 million people by 2040. The educational consulting firm of Ruffalo Noel Levitz predicts Washington to have the fourth-largest increase among all states in high school graduates between 2020 and 2030. For this rapidly growing population the state provides only six public universities to accommodate the educational needs of its residents, and only two of those, the University of Washington and Washington State University, are charged with active engagement in scholarly productivity. Further, WSU is directed to employ its expertise in the service of the economic and societal needs of state residents, through its research and outreach programs. Demand for educational access by Washingtonians will, then, continue to grow through at least 2040. WSU must pursue continual and unbroken growth in enrollment.

As a system, the University has extensive resources to sustain and develop the state of Washington. Each campus offers a distinctive learning environment to equip students with knowledge and life-long skills, while the resources of a globally-engaged research university provide a wealth of opportunities across the system to advance and translate knowledge and model creativity, and many units work with the broader community to address critical issues in Washington and throughout the world. To build the collective future of the WSU system, this strategic plan highlights and connects the distinctive strengths and forms of excellence that exist across the University.

Excellence takes many forms that merit the University’s shared investment. The WSU system provides Washingtonians with access to outstanding liberal arts education, hands-on learning experiences in fields, labs, and community centers, and research and educational experiences. Through preparing educators and health care providers, providing opportunities that expand cultural understanding and enrich lives, and fueling economic development, WSU shapes future leaders and strengthens communities. This plan highlights the institution’s strategic intentions related to educational development, scholarly research and creative work, and partnering with Washington communities. It also outlines next steps that will allow the University to be even more responsive to the challenges facing Washington’s towns and cities, the state and nation, and the world.