The South Puget Sound Higher Education Council and Establishment of the UW Tacoma Branch Campus

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New archival collection offers a glimpse of UW Tacoma history

Photographs from UW Tacoma's first graduation ceremony

Beverly Gage’s donated collection tells the story of the persistence needed to ensure a successful branch campus opened in Tacoma.

With over 5,000 students now enrolled at UW Tacoma and an impressive 37-acre campus built in Tacoma’s historic warehouse district, it’s hard to believe that it all started with an idea. Last February, the UW Libraries received a donated collection from Beverly Gage that tells the story of how that idea became a reality. It includes documents, news clippings, ephemera, original campus planning maps, photographs, and other materials from an organization called the South Puget Sound Higher Education Council (SPSHEC).

While the SPSHEC may not be a name recognized by many, the council played an essential role in establishing the UW Tacoma branch campus. In 1988, State representatives Brian Ebersole and Dan Grimm asked Fred Haley to create the SPSHEC to study higher education need in the Tacoma area, to create campus plans, and to drive community and legislative support. It was a local counterpoint to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which led the state-wide effort to establish branch campuses in Washington.

The SPSHEC included many community and civic leaders including Elizabeth Heath, Dawn Lucien, Karl Anderson, Ron Powers, and George Lund.  With the hard work of the SPSHEC and support from local politicians like Ebersole and Governor Booth Gardner, the bill to establish new branch campuses for the University of Washington and Washington State University passed in the House and Senate. The bill was signed in 1989 which led to the opening of UW Tacoma in 1990.

Erika Wigren, a graduate student in the MLIS program at the UW Information School who also works at the UW Tacoma Library, has been processing the collection over the past year to make it easily accessible to those who want to know more about the history of the UW branch campuses. After receiving training from John Bolcer, the University Archivist, she has prepared a finding aid that guides researchers through the documents.

Collection materials being processed

This was a unique opportunity to apply what she was learning at the Information School, and since she is also alumna of UW Tacoma, she was able to learn more about the history of her alma mater in greater detail. Says Wigren: 

It’s been an incredible opportunity to not only learn new archival and collection processing skills, but also to learn more about the history of UW Tacoma and the community members that worked to establish it. Studying and organizing this collection has given me hands-on experience in my aspiring field and I’m excited that the work of the SPSHEC will be available for others to access and research. I think that was Beverly’ Gage’s intention when she was both collecting the items and when she donated them to the university.

While UW Tacoma and Bothell are thriving and continuously growing in student attendees, degrees, staff, and programs, establishing the campuses was no easy task, with negative responses outside of the Tacoma-Pierce County community.

Collection materials in boxes, with an inventory list

The collection will be housed in the University of Washington Archives, and UW Tacoma Library staff are developing procedures for local researchers to be able to request these and other archival materials so that it can be delivered to Tacoma for viewing and use.

Please contact Justin Wadland, Associate Director and Head, Digital Scholarship, if you have questions:

Written by: 
Erika Wigren & Justin Wadland / December 19, 2018
Photos by: 
Erika Wigren
Media contact: 

Justin Wadland,