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Background and context

for OneWSU system development

In the past 30 years, WSU has experienced incredible growth—going from a single flagship campus in Pullman to an evolving system of interconnected campuses in the growing population centers of Everett, Spokane, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver, as well as achieving statewide impact through our extension programs and worldwide outreach through our Global Campus. When the legislature approved WSU’s original multi-campus system, they did so to provide place-bound students access to degree programs and, secondarily, to contribute to the communities’ economic and cultural needs in which the campuses were located. The “how” of achieving this was left to the institution. In response, WSU adopted the mantra of “one university, geographically dispersed,” but it did so without a clear framework for how it would operate as a cohesive system.

In 2003, recognizing the challenges related to WSU’s rapidly growing enterprise and organizational structure, the WSU Board of Regents approved a set of recommendations concerning the WSU system. In response, WSU adopted a series of principles for system development and a guide to various university groups and administrators’ decision-making authority across the system. Under this guidance, WSU continued to expand its statewide reach.

Following the 2008-09 recession, WSU experienced a period of rapid growth in enrollment, due in part to Washington’s booming economy and growing population. During this time, WSU ambitiously set out to expand its statewide footprint to provide Washingtonians with local access to world-class institutional expertise. While WSU has made notable strides, the institution is experiencing limitations due to our organizational and administrative infrastructure. Many of our campuses are dependent on the flagship campus in Pullman to provide expertise—restricting their ability to make needed decisions at a campus level.

For WSU to continue to grow its ability to meet the needs of the communities it serves, we must gain greater flexibility and continually evolve the WSU system structure through a unified system infrastructure known as OneWSU. This system will better support our campuses and local communities, while maintaining the quality of a WSU education and enhancing that famous Coug experience known worldwide. We seek to provide an appropriate level of autonomy at each campus location, while at the same time ensuring consistent WSU mission, branding, and quality. Through this OneWSU system structure, WSU’s six campuses, four research and extension centers, ten subject matter centers, and 39 county and one tribal extension offices will join in a commitment to a set of OneWSU operating principles (outlined in the OneWSU System Strategic Plan), establishing an overarching philosophy that unites the WSU system that our Cougar family depends on and that consistently guides the institution’s day-to-day actions.

Why now?

It is important to remember that our system’s evolution has been in process for over 30 years. In those 30 years, we have seen great progress and developed a university system vision that provides centralized support to its decentralized campuses and locations. We were charting a course towards this OneWSU strategy, when, in 2020, a global pandemic “turned the world upside down.” WSU, like all higher education institutions, had to quickly adapt to a new way of teaching, learning, and operating. And, in true Coug fashion, WSU persevered through the unknowns, the challenges, and the successes, and is emerging even stronger. These unprecedented times have forced us to think more creatively than ever before about how we can best serve the public good, and fulfill our duty as a land-grant institution to be a true state and national leader in education, research, and outreach activities. We must take this opportunity to continue to build upon the hard work that has been done to date around system development.

Assumptions to support long-term success

  1. WSU will continue its single, systemwide approach to accreditation—meaning that all campuses will remain part of WSU’s Carnegie Classification as an R1 university,  and graduates at all campuses will receive the same WSU diploma.
  2. The WSU system will be successful only if the organizational structure ensures that all campuses contribute to the common mission.
    1. Each campus in the WSU system will necessarily have values, roles, and missions beyond those of the system, but they must align with the OneWSU System Strategic Plan and our land-grant mission.
    1. Each campus in the system does not need to be structured identically.
      1. Academic programs at each campus location should reflect the opportunities that exist locally, meaning that programs will also not necessarily be identical at all campuses.
  3. While the individual campuses have an obligation to contribute to the role and mission of the overall system, WSU will be successful in fully developing its system only if the organizational structure permits full pursuit of the individual identities and missions of each campus.
  4. Some administrative or organizational functions may only be successfully executed if they are shared and/or held at the system level.