In Our View: Penguins Resume March

Classes begin at Clark College, with plenty of reasons to be proud

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One way to assess a community's progress is to measure its thirst for knowledge. Specifically, how vigorous are people in seeking new skills and solid careers? In Clark County, about 17,000 people are involved in higher education pursuits as students at public institutions. That's a powerful testament to our collective ambition.At the higher levels, Washington State University Vancouver draws much of the local attention and justifiably so, with more than three dozen fields of study leading to 19 bachelor's, nine master's and two doctorate degrees.

But progress also is impressive at Clark College, which boasts more than five times the enrollment. The annual autumn march of the Penguins was renewed on Monday when classes began for almost 14,000 students.

Progress at Clark College could not come at a more crucial time, as President Robert Knight explained in a Tuesday Columbian story: "Historically, enrollment at community colleges increases during tough economic times, and we are still seeing the impact of the Great Recession on far too many lives."

Clark College is accustomed to performing in a bright spotlight. In the 2011-2012 academic year, it was listed as having the largest enrollment on a single community-college campus in the state (Clark also has satellite buildings in the community).

Several significant recent events punctuate this new school year at Clark College. Here are a few:

Clark College has received permission from the state to begin design work on a $38 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building. Construction of the building, across Fort Vancouver Way from the main campus, could begin in 2014.

The college recently secured a $543,000 grant to develop programs in health-related information technology. "Informatics" is the increasingly popular term for computerizing data systems, and at Clark the research and instruction will be especially valuable in the pharmacy tech and nursing programs, ultimately with a priority status available for military veterans. Nine community colleges (eight in Washington) have formed a consortium that is receiving a combined $11.8 million from the U.S. Department of Labor.

And here's what we always like to see in public grants: private-sector involvement. This latest grant will connect Clark students with companies in the health IT industry and with regional workforce development boards.

The need certainly is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 21 percent increase in health IT jobs over the next decade.

Clark College's Running Start program -- the largest in the state -- recently saw its enrollment surpass 1,800 students for the first time. This is a win-win, first for students who use certain classes to combine high school and college credits, and second for taxpayers who see a more efficient use of public money dedicated to education.

And there's a name change at the campus that no doubt is endorsed by untold numbers of former music students. Last week the music building was named in honor of Dale Beacock, who died last year and left a 60-year legacy at the campus, first as a student and later as band director, music department chair and advocate of what became known as the Clark College Jazz Festival. It's great to see Beacock's countless contributions memorialized in the building name.