From the beginning of its 45-year history, Whatcom Community College has been recognized as an innovator. When the state formed the new district in 1967, the Board of Trustees was obligated to begin offering classes, but there wasn't much money to support the new community college in Bellingham. Soon, Whatcom became known as "the college without walls" as the board and early administrators, faculty and staff essentially became "gypsy" educators, finding classroom and office space at an assortment of buildings throughout the county.
"It was a different way to think of college," says Bob Winters, Arts & Humanities Division Chair, "and we pursued the goals of education in a different fashion. We taught classes in the mountains and at the water's edge, in a former supermarket and a one-time furniture store. We welcomed students from wherever, and were committed to educating whoever found his or her way to us. It was "guerrilla" teaching, and a lot of us were inspired by the pureness of purpose and simplicity of it."
The student access Winters describes is central to a community college's mission. For many students and working professionals, the lower tuition costs, smaller class sizes, career-focused program options and transfer degrees are their best option to pursue higher education. That fact hasn't been lost on newsmakers. These days everyone seems to be talking about community colleges as important components of a robust national economy. At Whatcom, providing access to education and adapting course offerings to meet community needs is part of the tradition and the future of the College.
Today, WCC welcomes nearly 11,000 students annually on its 72-acre campus. The physical space may have changed, but Winters and others say the original spirit remains. "Today we have a beautiful campus with well-appointed classrooms and labs and studios," Winters says. "But what still brings us all to work each day is that sense of purpose and service. We know our work is important, and we know why: it transforms lives—not in some abstract way, but in ways that are tangible and familiar. I see my former and current students everywhere in our community, every day: at the grocery store, at the park, at movie theaters and restaurants. They tell me that their experience in my class—and their time at Whatcom—really meant something to them, changed them, opened up new ideas and worlds to them. That's why I and my colleagues teach at Whatcom, and why so many of us have stayed here for years."
Learn more in the College's 45th Anniversary Edition of Connect: Report to the Community
1967The Community College Act of 1967 establishes 22 community college districts, each governed by five trustees. Whatcom is District 21. Gov. Dan Evans appoints first Board of Trustees: Sam Kelly, Elizabeth Bay, Lawrence Belka, Duane Reed and Catharine Stimpson. The first board meeting is held May 29 at the Leopold Hotel, Bellingham.
March: Former Ferndale Schools Superintendent Everett Sanders is first employee; his title is coordinator. The first full-time faculty member is hired the next month. Floyd Sandell teaches Farm Management, a program transferred from the Bellingham School District. The College’s first office is on Third Street in Ferndale.
May: The Board of Trustees rules that “Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured” (ambulance driving) will be the college’s first class, offered tuition free.
June: The College is formerly named Whatcom Community College. Other names considered are Kulshan, Mt. Baker and Nooksack. Sanders says, “Since capital funds are not available, it seems District 21 will operate without a campus… We can serve people, not buildings.”
September: Tuition for first quarter of courses is set at $6 per credit.
April: Richard A. Arntson receives the first A.A. degree from WCC.
July: Dr. Robert Hamill becomes the first president of WCC.
September: College leases 2 acres on Northwest Road adjacent to the Whatcom County Library. Modular buildings are used for administrative offices and the Learning Resources Center.
June: College leases an abandoned Thriftway grocery store as the Marine Drive Instructional Center.
December: Lynden Instructional Center opens in a remodeled Safeway store at Sixth and Grover streets. The center offers farm management and art for seniors.
1976WCC earns accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Ferndale Instructional Center opens on Third Street. Blaine Instructional Center opens on Peace Portal Drive.
Dr. William J. Laidlaw is appointed president.
The Midtown Center opens in downtown Bellingham.
First commencement ceremony honoring graduates of 1972-1979.
The Pottery Studio is leased from Bellingham Parks and Recreation at Boulevard Park.
Programs now include Early Childhood Education, Alternative Learning Experiences and Cooperative Education. These courses are offered at 1919 Broadway in Bellingham.
1983President Laidlaw recommends the Board authorize administration to take steps to acquire core facility as outlined in the Master Plan. Later that year, The Trillium Corporation donates 5.93 acres of real property for construction in the Cordata area of north Bellingham.
1984Legislature approves capital dollars for design of Whatcom core facility.
Dr. Harold G. Heiner selected as third president.
1985Enrollment exceeds 1,000 FTE for the first time.
1986Groundbreaking for new core facility at site of current campus on Kellogg Road in Bellingham. The Laidlaw Center opens in 1987. Later lands, buildings and improvements funded through a combination of donated, state and local monies. Today, campus has 10 buildings totaling 305,000 square feet, including classrooms, labs, library, auditorium, theater and gymnasium.
1989Board adopts the Orca whale as the college mascot.
1992Running Start program starts with 117 high school students enrolled. Today, more than 900 students are enrolled annually in Running Start. The program enables them to receive college credits while still in high school.
Construction began on the College's new Pavilion and Student Recreation Center June 2014. The project will include more than 24,000 sq. ft. of new construction and 6,700 sq. ft. of renovated space. In addition, there will be significant site improvements on the east (between Laidlaw Center and the Pavilion) and south sides of the building, which will create a stronger pedestrian connection to the project from the Syre Student Center and south parking area.
The expansion of labs and classrooms for Whatcom's nationally acclaimed Computer Information Systems program took place summer 2014. It included renovation and remodel of approximately 6,000 sq. ft. of the south wing of Baker Hall. The most significant improvements in the approx. $814,000 project are three enlarged labs, two lecture spaces, a new networking/server room, and a new instructional support/testing area.
The college serves nearly 11,000 students annually. A majority of students are from Whatcom County, but the College also welcomes out-of-state and more than 250 international students from 30 countries. On its beautiful, 72-acre campus and through online courses, Whatcom offers transfer degrees, professional and technical programs, as well as basic education, job skills and Community and Continuing Education classes. Students participate in a variety of athletic programs and clubs.