Monday was a typical first day of fall quarter at Clark College. Cars played “musical chairs” with the 2,500 free parking spaces available for students. Long lines of students snaked around the bookstore and the financial aid office in Gaiser Hall.
The 13,373 students enrolled this fall represent a 4 percent decrease from last year. But officials aren’t surprised.
“We knew enrollment was going to go down because the employment picture is getting brighter,” President Bob Knight said. “People are getting back to work. The economy is starting to turn around. Our institutional research office had predicted we’d begin a slow decline. We’ve planned for that.”
Knight said the college hasn’t had to “lay off any full-time people. Some adjunct instructors have had some sections cut back because the student numbers aren’t as high.”
“Employees are happy,” Knight said, noting that wages were restored after a 3 percent pay cut during the recession. “Students are happy because tuition hasn’t increased.” Tuition had increased 13 percent annually in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.
Enrollment in the college’s Running Start program increased by 7 percent over fall 2012. The 1,893 high school students enrolled in Running Start can earn college credit at little or no cost. Clark has the state’s largest Running Start program.
Knight said many Clark students juggle jobs and families.
“Two-thirds of them are first-generation students. Their parents never went to college,” he said.
Students interviewed at random on campus Monday echoed Knight’s words:
• Yasmin McQueen, 28, is starting her third quarter at Clark. She emigrated four years ago from Germany and plans a career in medical radiography. McQueen is taking 12 credits this quarter and works 24 hours a week at an off-campus retail job.
• Maria Potter, 19, has completed two years of Running Start and is close to earning her associate’s degree in elementary education. She plans to transfer to Washington State University Vancouver next summer to complete her teaching degree. She has a work-study job on campus.
• A California transplant, Michael Jasso, 32, is beginning his seventh quarter at Clark as he works toward a degree in anthropology. Next fall, he’ll transfer to a four-year school, likely WSUV. Jasso described himself as a “house husband” who cares for his 12-year-old son, Gabriel Warren, while his wife works.
• Students Rachel Redjou, 18, and Gabrielle Roscher, 21, pushed a cart sponsored by Clark’s student government. They stopped to welcome students and offer free planners, calendars, tissues, pens and snacks.
“We’ll be here all week to help students,” Redjou said.
International students: This quarter, 103 students representing 31 countries are taking classes.
Tech Center campus: For the first time, Clark College at Columbia Tech Center will be open for credit classes on Fridays. The expanded schedule will make it easier to complete degrees entirely at the tech center.
Gorge campus: Clark College is offering college classes to Columbia River Gorge communities at its new satellite location in the Wind River Education Center in Carson. Until now, residents had to travel 20 miles or more to attend the nearest community college in Oregon.
Phlebotomy program: Clark College has redesigned its phlebotomy certification program and relocated it to specially configured classrooms and labs on the WSUV campus. The health care instruction building there also houses the college’s nursing and pharmacy technician programs.
Bachelor’s degrees in health informatics: Clark College and Bellevue College have signed an agreement that allows students at Clark to earn a bachelor’s degree in health informatics information technology from Bellevue without leaving the Clark campus.
Mechatronics: Clark College’s state-of-the-art mechatronics program will begin offering evening classes, allowing workers to retrain for modern industrial jobs without leaving their current positions. This expansion is designed to boost the region’s economy; it was prompted by local businesses who wanted more opportunities to retrain their employees.
Food trucks: Clark has suspended its culinary arts food program pending a redesign that will make it more responsive to modern trends. Meanwhile, three privately owned food carts are serving the college. The college’s culinary arts-bakery program continues to operate.
Water bottle filling stations: Students and college administration have set up water stations around the main campus, reducing the number of disposable plastic water bottles bought and discarded.