Local view: Clark College needs help to avoid more cuts

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The Great Recession has had a devastating impact. People have lost jobs and homes. Cuts in federal and state funding have impacted services and programs — including those at public colleges and universities. Clark College is no exception.

As recently as the 2008-2009 academic year, the state of Washington provided 61.6 percent of our total operating budget. One year later, state funding had declined to 52.5 percent of our total operating budget. It’s now 41.5 percent and will likely drop below 40 percent by the end of this academic year. Instead of being state-supported, Clark College is now state-assisted.

Most of our operational funding comes from sources other than the state. Many of those dollars come from our students. In the past three years, they have experienced tuition increases of 7 percent, 7 percent and 12 percent. Another 12 percent increase will take effect next year.

As state funding decreased and the economic crisis took hold, our full-time enrollment jumped from 8,819 to 10,988. The college has generally been able to serve students by cutting back on service hours, trimming class sections, and by increasingly relying on part-time faculty and staff. In short, like many families and businesses, we are doing more with less. Those adjustments have allowed us to maintain quality for the short-term, but we know that it’s not sustainable.

We also know the results. Students become frustrated because they can’t get the classes or services they need. Our increasing reliance on talented part-time faculty has impacted student access to advising and counseling. Lack of funding impacts the ability of our faculty to remain current in the state-of-the-art technology that our students need to be successful in the 21st century economy.

Grim reality

This is the reality of Clark’s budget situation today, following multiple years of budget cuts — and with discussion of deeper cuts as the state Legislature meets in Olympia.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has recommended an additional 13 percent budget cut for higher education. At Clark, that would translate into a loss of an additional $3 million. Put simply, these budget cuts do not make sense.

Taxpayers see a 6.4 percent rate of return on their investment in Washington’s community and technical colleges. Our community and technical colleges generate more than $100 million in added tax revenues each year. For every state dollar invested in community and technical colleges, $1.70 in tax revenue is returned to the state.

All of the messages coming from Olympia and our local legislators clearly suggest that the decrease in state funding for higher education will not end anytime soon. Many have stated it more bluntly: We will never return to the state funding levels of past years.

These are difficult times, and we are not asking for a budget increase. However, more cuts will impact our ability to train the skilled workforce that Washington needs to drive our economic recovery.

In her budget proposal, Gregoire suggested offsetting the budget cuts to higher education, K-12 and public safety through a one-half cent increase in the sales tax — an increase which would expire in 2015. If you share our belief that this is a wise investment in our state, we hope that you will let your voice be heard.

Clark College exists because, in the midst of the Great Depression, a group of educators and business leaders boldly embraced a dream of higher education for Southwest Washington. When Clark College opened its doors in 1933, it was a reflection of hope and belief in the future.

From the day it was founded, Clark has truly been the community’s college. Nearly 80 years later, Clark College once again needs the community’s support to foster a bright future for our students and our region.

Robert K. Knight is president of Clark College.