Clark College enrollment dips as economy heals

Full-time students down by 1,000 from a year ago

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Editor’s note

This story was written by staff members of The Independent, Clark College’s campus newspaper, as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College.

Classes might seem bigger, parking might seem tougher and maybe you had to wait too long for your textbooks, but the reality is enrollment at Clark College is down. Clark County's gradually recovering economy is one reason that fewer students are in the classroom, according to one Clark College official.

Nearly 1,000 fewer full-time students are enrolled at Clark College from a year ago, according to college officials. The latest enrollment tallies for this winter show 13,237 students enrolled, compared with 14,187 last winter.

Clark is not the only school seeing fewer students. Statewide, head count has decreased by thousands over the past academic year.

"Many students have been drawn back to work by the improving economy," according to a report published last year by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

The report also notes some people have quit school due to their grants running out, changes in financial aid or high tuition, even though tuition did not increase from last year.

Enrollment levels are lower than they were in 2009, after the economic downturn, according to the state board. Clark College had 9,135 full-time enrollments in the 2008-09 academic year, more than the 8,459 for winter quarter 2014.

At Clark, the drop means an elimination of 129 "clusters" of classes, according to Tim Cook, the college's vice president for instruction. Clusters are groups of related classes, such as English 101 and 102.

English, math and the social sciences cut the most classes.

"We try to avoid cutting classes that are part of a sequence … students need them to graduate," Cook said.

Classes are cut when fewer than 15 students register for a class or when a class has less than 80 percent of its cap filled, according to Cook.

About 100 adjunct instructors, who do not have a full-time or permanent position, were affected by cuts. Each had at least one section cut, according to Cook.

An improving economy is the reason for the enrollment decrease said Shanda Diehl, the college's vice president for planning and effectiveness. Clark County gained 3,900 jobs over the last year, said Scott Bailey, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department.

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 percent to 6.7 percent in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. National college enrollment decreased by 3.6 percent during the 2012-13 academic year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

"Enrollment is expected to go down again next year because our

unemployment rate is going down," Diehl said.

Tuition has increased every year since 2008; it's now $4,000 per academic year, up from $2,676 five years ago, according to the state board.

Students also have to pay more now because the state is paying less.

"We received 60 percent of our funding from the state in 2009, and now it's less than 40 percent," Cook said.

Despite the decrease of 950 full-time students since December 2012, one population base at Clark College continues to grow. That's the number of high school students earning college credit through the Running Start program.

"Five years ago, I don't even know if we had 1,000 Running Start [full-time equivalents], and we are expected to end this year with a little less than 1,450," Diehl said.

Running Start students make up 17 percent of the full-time students at Clark College, according to Diehl. "And their numbers continue to grow," she said.