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Published August 2006

Cogswell to close in face
of declining enrollment
Snohomish County Business Journal/JOHN WOLCOTT
Henry Cogswell College President Bill Pickens said he has had some serious inquiries about the purchase of the school’s main headquarters and classroom building, the former Federal Building on Colby Avenue in downtown Everett.

By John Wolcott
SCBJ Editor

A bleak bottom line and anticipated decline in enrollment led to the recent decision to close Henry Cogswell College’s Everett campus, school President Bill Pickens said.

“No one has come forward with a concrete proposal in terms of financial assistance to help the college stay open. Obviously, considering the finances, we had a legal obligation to announce the school’s closure,” said a saddened Pickens, who arrived in Everett in May to become president of what he thought could be a viable college.

On June 23, the college’s governing board made their decision to close the college effective Aug. 31, after concluding that the college was in a financial crisis that would only be made worse by an anticipated decline in enrollment for the coming school year. The staff, students and faculty were told of the closure June 29.

Ironically, Cogswell was a miniature polytechnical college much like the one that the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board is recommending as its favored type of four-year university being considered for Snohomish County. The Cogswell courses focused on electrical and mechanical engineering, digital arts, computer science and business courses that trained students for high-demand jobs in many sectors of the economy.

But that’s not to say a school focused on tech programs couldn’t succeed locally, Pickens said. In fact, a four-year state campus could provide vitally important educational resources.

“I certainly think a polytechnical college is needed,” Pickens said, “but it’s important to realize that although the courses and instruction at Cogswell were excellent, and it’s a great niche institution, it is still a tuition-supported college without an endowment. Last year ended with an enrollment of fewer than 200 students, with fall enrollment expected to be about 156.”

Whereas Cogswell has struggled, losing about $700,000 this year and facing a projected loss of $1 million for the coming year, the four-year state university would be tax funded, along with tuition, and would offer a broader array of courses and degrees that would attract large numbers of students, he said. Cogswell operates with 10 full-time faculty and 25 part-time employees.

The Foundation of Educational Achievement in San Diego, which governs the college, has been supporting the Everett Cogswell campus for years, Pickens said, but can no longer continue to do so. The main Cogwell campus in Sunnyvale, Calif., continues to operate but has its own endowment and much higher enrollment.

Originally, Cogswell served primarily Boeing Co. employees in the Northwest, expanding its Kirkland campus and then moving it to Everett several years ago. Boeing needed engineering and specialty courses that employees could take at night, an option that was not generally available in the area at the time, Pickens said, adding that “we were pretty much the only game in town at that time.”

“Then, 90 percent of our students were Boeing employees, but as more options for education opened up, our enrollment leveled out a couple of years ago and then declined substantially last fall and continued that trend,” he said.

“Today, our Boeing enrollment is about 25 percent. Also, as the cost of operations rose, tuition for some students was $24,000 a year, which also impacted enrollment when employers were not paying most of that tuition,” he said.

Pickens said he came here to solve some of the college’s problems, promote it in the community and increase enrollment, but it was too late.

“I wasn’t aware when I arrived of the number of issues affecting the campus and that applications were substantially lower than last year and going down. That came into view pretty quickly after May and June.

Cogswell is only leasing space at the former Bon Marche building at the corner of California and Wetmore, but it owns the Colby Avenue building, which it bought from the federal government and remodeled into modern offices and classrooms.

“We’ve talked to some individuals recently who would be interested in the building and definitely want to see it preserved, hopefully to serve an education purpose,” he said.

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© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA