Ellensburg’s residents and visitors often note the typical windy weather that defines the area. Even people passing by the town can spot the wind turbines that dot the landscape.
In the heart of this windy locale lies Central Washington University, where a different kind of energy radiates inside the blend of historical structures and state-of-the-art facilities that make up the university’s campus.
CWU, with about 1,300 employees, is by far the largest employer in Kittitas County, despite the loss of about 100 jobs in the past three years.
Linda Schactler, CWU’s executive director of public affairs, said she thinks the institution’s workforce will increase somewhat in the next few years to meet the growing enrollment numbers, which have been up by a thousand since 2008, and to replace those previously cut positions.
The other top employers in Kittitas County are Kittitas Valley Healthcare (470 employees), Ellensburg School District (380), Kittitas County government (363) and Anderson Hay & Grain (240). CWU has the second-largest education workforce in South-Central Washington, after the Yakima School District. CWU’s workforce stretches beyond the main Ellensburg campus to branch campuses in Yakima and seven other locations in the state.
CWU started as Washington Normal School in 1891, primarily as a teachers’ college to meet the state constitution’s mandate that basic education was the “paramount duty” of the state. Today, 92 percent of students are Washington residents, and nearly 70 percent come from Western Washington. More than 25 percent of CWU students are people of color, and the university is ranked first in the state for percent of degrees awarded to Hispanic students.
This year, 10,300 students are enrolled at all of CWU’s campuses. To help offset the $8,037 undergraduate tuition rate for the 2012-13 year for in-state residents, the university offered $40 million in grants and scholarships.
Smaller class sizes give students opportunities to know professors on a first-name basis and the chance to do faculty-mentored research even at the undergraduate level. Some highlighted programs are education, wine business, aviation, sports marketing and paramedicine. CWU also has the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
CWU has several programs that sets it apart from other institutions in the Northwest. Business and education programs consistently receive high marks, and about one of every five teachers in the state graduated from CWU. The university’s music program is considered the most prestigious in the region. The geology department houses The Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array, the Northwest’s center for monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis from Canada to northern California. The university is home to the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, which remains one of the only places in the world where humans and nonhumans communicate using American Sign Language.
CWU’s employment in Ellensburg includes 497 faculty members, 558 classified staff, 187 administrative positions and 73 hourly contracts. In Yakima County, CWU employs 75 on its Yakima Valley Community College campus. CWU’s main campus employs an additional 537 hourly paid students, while its Yakima campus employs 95 hourly paid students.
The institution spent more than $2.8 million in the past two years to hire about 115 vendors in Yakima County, ranging from food service to television advertising.
As many as a quarter of the employees working on CWU’s large construction projects are based in Yakima County. For the university’s latest project, the Hogue Addition and Renovation, CWU hired 36 workers from Yakima County and an additional nine subcontractor companies — electrical, sheet metal, flooring, fire alarm, doors, steel fabricators — from the same area. The value of work done by Yakima County subcontractors is $2.7 million.