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By working together to cross the traditional boundaries of educational politics, we can maximize the benefits of sharing and adapting the best ideas from each arena.
‒ Washington state Governor Booth Gardner, upon passage of the 1987 budget proviso that enacted the Washington Center

In 1985 the Washington State Legislature established the Washington Center as a public service center of The Evergreen State College, with a mandate to work with two- and four-year institutions to improve the quality of undergraduate education. The Exxon and Ford Foundations provided initial funding to seed Evergreen-inspired learning communities at universities and colleges throughout the state. By 1987 the legislature funded Washington’s Center’s work; this decision and the Center’s original mandate was reaffirmed in 2009.

In its first years, Washington Center worked in collaboration with colleagues from the state’s higher education community to foster highly effective, low-cost curricular improvements through faculty development, mainly focused on learning communities. By the 1990s, state-wide initiatives included a three-year cultural pluralism project, funded by the Ford Foundation, and a project focused on calculus reform, funded through a National Science Foundation grant.

In 1996, a three-year Learning Communities Dissemination Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, provided support to participating campuses as they developed, strengthened, and evaluated their learning community programs. From 2000 to 2003, The Pew Charitable Trusts funded The National Learning Communities Project, which extended the work to more college and university campuses while establishing regional communities of practice. This project brought together learning community practitioners from across the country, shaping the identity of an emerging national movement and field.

In 2004, Washington Center became the National Resource Center for Learning Communities, providing resources and support to two- and four-year institutions throughout the United States and beyond its borders. Washington Center has led learning community assessment projects, such as the national project for Assessing Learning in Learning Communities, and has developed various tools for learning community practice including a heuristic for designing integrative assignments and the Online Survey of Students’ Experiences of Learning in Learning Communities.

Washington Center continues to work in areas other than learning communities. Projects have included Campus Equity and Engagement, Critical Moments, Reaching College Readiness, Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum, and the current Curriculum for the Bioregion project.

Historical documents

The Rationale for Learning Communities

This speech was given by Patrick Hill, Academic Vice President at The Evergreen State College on October 22, 1985, at the Washington Center's Inaugural Conference on Learning Communities.

Fall 1987 Newsletter

This newsletter gives the reader a good idea of the work that the Washington Center was involved in during its founding years. It includes a letter from then-Governor Booth Gardner on the enactment of the Washington Center as a public service center during the 1987 legislative session. Readers may also be interested in reviewing other newsletters from the Center's first 20 years.

Washington Center Newsletters

These newsletters, published from 1986 through 2006, provide a detailed history of the Washington Center's projects and focus during its first twenty years.