Walla Walla Community College In Washington State Offers Two-Year Winemaking Degree

What Does Elite Wine Have To Do With Higher Education?

With the state of Washington boasting the second most wineries in the country after California, and ranking third in overall wine production, it should come as no surprise that a local community college seized the opportunity to incorporate the ever-growing viticulture industry into its curriculum.

In a segment for PBS NewsHour, special correspondent John Tulenko profiled Walla Walla Community College, which 12 years ago launched its wine school -- the first of its kind in the nation. The two-year degree program teaches grape growing, pressing, barreling, blending and tasting -- all on-site at the college’s vineyard.

According to the PBS report, the program attracts students from across the country. A recent survey found that 80 percent of graduates are employed in the wine industry as vineyard managers, winemakers, cellar workers and wine sellers, with most earning between $25,000 and $55,000 a year.

The program also helped revitalize the city of Walla Walla, which was hit hard in the 1990s as free trade agreements ushered in cheap imported produce, resulting in a big loss of jobs and declining food processing industry. Since the community college introduced its wine school 12 years ago, however, wineries in the valley have increased from 19 to 174 and become a popular tourist destination.

The college also offers programs in culinary arts and golf course management.

When asked if the role of a community college was to foster a hospitality business, the school’s president, Steven VanAusdle, replied: “For students, their primary interest in life is preparing for work, having a secure job. So, it's all about jobs and quality of life and standard of living and wages today, I think.”

The Walla Walla program has garnered national recognition, and for the past two years has been rated as one of the top 10 community colleges by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “College Cellars” also went six-for-six in the 2012 Seattle Wine Awards.

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