BELLINGHAM - Washington Engineering Institute has joined the ranks of Whatcom County colleges offering a four-year degree.
The state Washington Student Achievement Council on July 27 gave the institute in Bellingham the authorization to offer a four-year Bachelor of Science in civil engineering technology.
The institute also received the OK to offer a new two-year associate of applied science in civil engineering technology.
Prior to the new designation, the institute's students earned trade school certificates through its career school.
"It is our next stage in growth. It was planned. We did it. We are very happy," said Dave C. Bren, president of the small private college in Haskell Business Park. "And we're excited. But now comes the real work."
The institute also offers continuing education coursework.
Founded in November 2009 with the help of Bellingham industry, the institute graduated its first group of students in June 2012. Fourteen students graduated with certificates in renewable energy engineering technology, and in civil engineering technology.
Fall quarter classes, including for the new college courses, begin Sept. 4. There are openings for the new four-year and two-year programs.
Starting tuition for college courses will be $5,400 a year, among the lowest in the state for a four-year college, Bren noted.
"We have to because we're just starting out," he said.
Career school tuition will continue to be $3,600 a year.
The low tuition is a combination of factors that include a "very humble" facility and no administration, according to Bren.
"We just have the bare minimum to do what we need to do. We focus on teaching in the classroom," said Bren, a civil engineer who also is the civil engineering technology instructor. "It doesn't matter what the building looks like. It matters what instruction is happening inside the building."
The new designation won't bring a change in name, or hours.
The institute will continue to offer only evening classes - allowing students to work during the day and go to school at night, and faculty to keep their day jobs.
Its teachers are professional engineers still working in their fields in public and private industry, according to Bren.
The new bachelor's and associate degree offerings from the institute come as public officials and private industry worry about educating enough students to meet future demands for workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Officials have said the need for what are known as STEM graduates is critical, in Washington state and nationally.
Nearly 30,000 jobs in Washington state will go unfilled between 2012 and 2017 because there aren't enough qualified STEM candidates, according to Washington STEM. The nonprofit group also noted that the number of STEM jobs has grown three times more than non-STEM jobs in the last 10 years.
Although the institute isn't large, it provides another way for students to access degrees in STEM fields and provides another option for students who might not be able to relocate to bigger schools, according to a Washington STEM spokeswoman.
"Even while it might be small, it's helpful that these kinds of institutions emerge in different regions of the state," said Carolyn Landel, chief program officer at Washington STEM.
To Bren, the institute offers students a choice in their own backyard.
"This is an incredible opportunity for the local community," he said. "What excites me is it's home-grown."
An orientation for Washington Engineering Institute's new bachelor's degree program is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21.
People who want to attend should email Admissions Director Kristina Daheim at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-739-1428 to confirm.
Additional information about the institute, and its new bachelor's degree in civil engineering technology and associate of applied science in civil engineering technology is online at weiedu.org.