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Higher Education in Washington

Strategically located on the U.S. Northwest Coast, Washington State is recognized as a major center of innovation in fields such as software development, aerospace, bio-science, and agriculture. Graduates of the state’s public and private colleges, universities and career schools make a critical contribution to the state’s continued economic success.

With enrollment of more than 438,000, Washington’s public and private higher education institutions serve a large proportion of in-state residents as well as a growing cadre of out-of-state and international students. Washington has extensive business and cultural ties to Pacific Rim nations and is a top international trade state.  

Washington’s public higher education institutions include two major research universities with five branch campuses, four comprehensive colleges and universities, and 34 community and technical colleges.  Long-established private, non-profit colleges and a diverse array of for-profit career colleges institutions also contribute substantially to the state’s diverse higher education landscape.

Comprehensive information on Washington’s public and private higher education institutions is available at the following link www.hecb.wa.gov/AboutOurSystem.

About 13 percent of those attending public, four-year colleges and universities are of Asian-American heritage, 7 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are African American.  International students make up about 6 percent, or 28,260 of those attending Washington colleges and universities.

The state’s research universities – the University of Washington, Seattle, and Washington State University’s in Pullman – offer particularly strong international programs. Degree programs in the sciences, technology, engineering, medicine, and humanities also are highly ranked.

Four other public comprehensive colleges and universities serve the various geographical regions of the state: Western, Central and Eastern Washington universities and The Evergreen State College in Olympia, the state’s capital.

Students who enroll in one of the state’s public, four-year institutions have an excellent chance of achieving academic success.  Washington ranks at the top of all public institutions in the percentage (per 100 students) of those who earn a bachelor’s degree.

Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges serve every region of the state, offering one- and two-year certificates and degrees, as well as applied bachelor’s degrees for professionals in specialized fields. Many students who complete associate degrees move on to four-year institutions. More than a quarter of students enrolled at public four-year colleges and universities began their college careers at Washington’s two-year institutions.

More than 30 independent, private, degree-granting institutions throughout the state serve 50,000 students and account for 25 percent of all bachelor’s degrees produced annually.  A high percentage of the faculty at the state’s public and long-standing independent colleges and universities are employed in full-time positions.   Women make up 53 percent of all students at the public four-year institutions, 57 percent at the private four-year institutions, and 55 percent at community and technical colleges.  

About 8,000 Washington companies – 4 percent of all Washington businesses – are engaged in export activities, the highest percentage of any state.  China is Washington’s largest market, but the state continues to seek expansion of trade with other nations on the Pacific Rim, Europe and elsewhere.   Aircraft parts and agricultural products lead the list of exports.

Washington State boasts tremendous physical beauty as well as geographic and environmental diversity. Temperate and rainy areas along the Pacific Coast and Puget Sound lowlands rise to the rugged and snow-capped Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, which then give way to the dryer central and eastern agricultural regions, ideal for growing apples, cherries, wheat, and wine grapes.

Extensive outdoor recreational activities are available in Washington, which has preserved many rugged and picturesque areas in an extensive system of national and state parks and wilderness tracts. Art museums, performing arts centers, movies theaters, and other cultural venues are plentiful in communities across the state.  In many cities, jogging and biking paths have been conveniently located near college and university campuses.

Large and small communities sponsor numerous festivals each year, and local farmers’ markets have become popular places to sample the state’s agricultural bounty, especially in the summer and fall. Washington also hosts several major and minor-league professional sports teams, in addition to the highly popular teams fielded by the state’s colleges and universities. 

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