Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Thousand Other Places or a Thousand More Students?

In Friday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Jerry Weitz of Moscow wrote the following:
Moscow’s decline hurts students

A Feb. 7 New York Times feature described progressive rural college towns that are “urbanizing” to attract and retain students. It is no secret that rural colleges and universities are faced with enrollment decline within the past two years while Boise State University and Brigham Young University-Idaho are increasing. [Or in our case, WSU Vancouver grows while WSU Pullman is declining - TF]

Quoting: “For decades, colleges … in rural areas of the country embraced a pastoral ideal, presenting themselves as oases of scholarship surrounded by nothing more distracting than lush farmland and rolling hills. But many officials at such institutes have decided that students today want something completely different: urban buzz.... Students graduating from high school these days seem particularly attracted to urban settings...Students crave the kind of vitality you have in urban space. The images that reveal an active social life are urban based.”

It hurts to see the decline of Moscow and the University of Idaho. Positive actions and attitudes are required to reverse the decline. Presently, Moscow city governance is very problematic for the university and the town.
Dr. Weitz is an incredibly learned and intelligent man. The people of Moscow would be wise to heed his advice, as would certain "excellent" professors at WSU that want to prevent Pullman from urbanizing and becoming "a clone of a thousand other places."

I have mentioned Ellensburg before as another rural college town in Washington that does not have a Wal-Mart (even though they do have a big-box store, Fred Meyer). According to this article from the October 21, 2004 edition of the (Kittitas Valley) Daily Record:
The [Spring 2004] survey he helped with, a product of professor Robert Lupton's retail management class, shows that students - roughly half of Ellensburg's population - shop more outside of Ellensburg than they do in the city, and most rarely shop downtown. Among the survey's most striking findings:

79.8 percent of students shop in downtown Ellensburg once a week or not at all, compared to 3.1 percent who shop downtown at least four times a week.

Only 6.1 percent of students don't leave Ellensburg to shop during an average month, while 30 percent leave Ellensburg to shop at least four times a month.

• On a scale of one to five, with five being highest, 27.9 percent of students gave downtown Ellensburg a one for variety of stores, 29.4 percent gave it a two, 28 percent gave it a three, 9.3 percent gave it a four and 3.7 percent gave it a five.

Those findings don't surprise Heather Clark, who is studying retail management with Lupton this year. She typically goes to Wenatchee or Yakima to shop, because those cities have large retailers such as Bon-Macy's and discounts stores like Target, she said.

In Ellensburg, "things are higher priced and there's not a lot of things that are targeted to us," Clark said.

Beyond the problems of students not feeling welcome and students not seeing the products they want downtown, several of them said they simply shop differently than people did a generation ago. They favor large, chain stores such as Fred Meyer and Wal-Mart.

While students in Lupton's class largely agreed there should be a mix of national retailers with the sort of mom-and-pop stores that populate the downtown now, they see the change to box stores as inevitable - and welcome.

"One-stop shopping is pretty much what's coming up, and everything else is dying out,"Geary said.

Part of what's driving that is a sense of familiarity, said Chelsey Borich, a student in the class. People her age have grown up shopping at the major national retailers.

"A lot of people that transfer here are looking for something that's kind of like home," she said. "And there's nothing like home here."

CWU student shopping sentiment
• Would students shop at Wal-Mart if there was one in Ellensburg?

Yes: 57.5 percent
No: 27.3 percent
Don't know: 15.2 percent
Is there any reason to believe that students at WSU that come from the urbanized west side of the state feel any differently than they students at CWU?

Pullman and WSU both fluorish because roughly three-quarters of our population are students who choose to come and spend their money here. That money pays the salaries of those "excellent" professors.

If Pullman does not change with the times and give students what they want with regards to shopping opportunities, we will become like a thousand other places alright, the thousands of small rural towns that are dying.

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