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Whatcom celebrates 50 years: 1967 - 2017

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Fifty years ago (in 1967), at the behest of the Washington state legislature, community leaders partnered with educators, business people and non-profit organizations to establish Whatcom Community College. In the early days, there was no budget. There were no buildings. But as the need for higher education grew in our community, the College grew to meet it. Today, Whatcom has a beautiful 72-acre campus, serves 11,000 students, and is recognized as one of the top two-year colleges in the state and in the nation.


College milestones


Board of Trustees, 1969The 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.

Anthropology instructor Allan Richardson and classMay: Board minutes report the College has no name and no crest. The two most frequently suggested names are Whatcom Community College and Kulshan Community College. The Board of Trustees rules that “Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured” (ambulance driving) will be one of the college’s first classes, offered tuition free.

June: The College is formally 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.”

Laura McKenzie and Jim Dodd at the Learning Resources CenterSeptember: 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.

Midtown Instructional Center in downtown Bellingham1976

WCC 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 on Magnolia and Commercial. First commencement ceremony honoring graduates of 1972-1979.

Crafts Studio at Boulevard Park1980

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.


President 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.


Legislature approves capital dollars for design of Whatcom core facility. Board selects Dr. Harold G. Heiner as third president.

Laidlaw Center, 19871985

Enrollment exceeds 1,000 FTE for the first time.


Groundbreaking 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, WCC has 12 buildings located on 72 acres.


Board adopts the Orca whale as the college mascot.

Parliament of Owls, 19971990

Agreement with Kawaijuku Institute of Japan signals growth of international program. Today, 300-plus international students from 30 countries study at WCC. 


Running Start program starts with 117 high school students enrolled. Today, more than 1,000 students are enrolled annually in Running Start. The program enables them to receive college credits while still in high school.


Whatcom closes its last satellite buildings. All programs are now offered at the central campus on Kellogg Road in Bellingham. WWU and WCC sign an articulation agreement on full transferability of the Associate in Arts and Sciences degree.


Dr. Kathi Hiyane-Brown selected as Whatcom’s fourth president.

Graduates at Whatcom's 2012 commencement ceremony2012

Whatcom celebrates its 45th anniversary. Learn more in the College's 45th Anniversary Edition of Connect: Report to the Community.


State-of-the-art Health Professions Education Center opens in the fall. WCC's health professions graduates consistently surpass state and national pass rates on license and certification exams.


Pavilion and Student Recreation Center, 2016Construction begins on the College's new Pavilion and Student Recreation Center in June. The project included more than 24,000 sq. ft. of new construction and 6,700 sq. ft. of renovated space. The labs and classrooms for Whatcom's nationally acclaimed Computer Information Systems program are also expanded. Approximately 6,000 sq. ft. of Baker Hall is renovated. The most significant improvements are three enlarged labs, two lecture spaces, a new networking/server room, and a new instructional support/testing area.


CIS student working on computer in new Baker Hall labWhatcom is the lead institution of CyberWatch West, one of only four National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded centers in the nation dedicated to cybersecurity education. The College will offer a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in IT Networking, beginning fall 2017.

WCC ranked third in the state (behind University of Washington and Washington State University) and 150th in the nation in fiscal year 2015 grant funding from the NSF. The most recent awards (totaling more than $600,000) recognize WCC’s excellence and innovation in STEM education.

Graduates transfer to leading in-state universities as well as prestigious out-of-state schools. Based on successful student outcomes, the Aspen Institute ranks Whatcom among the top nine community and technical colleges in Washington state and among the top 150 in the nation.