The stadium-style lecture hall was filled with students Monday, the first day of winter term in instructor Mark Bolke's anatomy and physiology class at Clark College.
The class — a prerequisite for entrance into several popular health care programs, including nursing, dental hygiene and medical radiography — remains as in-demand as ever, even as the college's overall enrollment for winter term has dropped.
The college has enrolled 12,578 students this term, a drop from the 13,477 students enrolled this time last year.
"We haven't dropped off within our department, at least," said Bolke, who's taught anatomy and physiology for the past 15 years. "We're sort of the exception here. We're still holding strong."
This winter, there are roughly 120 anatomy and physiology students spread across three classes, on par with previous years. Bolke teaches the class in one of the campus' two large lecture halls to accommodate all the students.
He has no trouble filling the seats.
"Anatomy and physiology classes are generally full," he said, adding there are currently about 10 students waiting for someone to drop the course so they can get in.
The reason for its popularity is simple, Bolke said: His students hope to enter a lucrative health care occupation.
Margie Baron, 17, said she's taking the class so she can successfully apply to nursing school. The large number of classmates, many of whom want to do the same thing, is an incentive for her to work hard and achieve high grades.
"There's a lot of competition for getting into a nursing program," she said. "You have to get straight A's (in your prerequisites)."
Anastasia Chambers, 24, said the class will help her enter the dental hygienist program. She's already applied to enter the program for the fall 2014 term and will know in June whether she's been accepted.
Friends tell her how they've had no luck getting into the class.
"I know people who try to get in every term, but the class fills up really fast," Chambers said.
Students say they are optimistic about job prospects, even though health care industry employment is down about 100 jobs in Clark County over the past 12 months.
There were about 15,700 health care jobs here as of November, according to Employment Security Department data.
College administrators say they're careful not to inundate the market with more graduates than it can support.
Blake Bowers, dean of the college's health and science division, said administrators examine local and regional economic trends frequently and base their class offerings around those findings.
"We're not in the business of producing students when there are no jobs," he said. There are about 1,200 students enrolled in the college's health care courses.
Bowers said Clark College's overall dip in enrollment is related to an improving job market.
When the unemployment rate is high, so is community college enrollment. Displaced workers return to school to retrain, and students who otherwise might leave school for work stay in class. So it's no surprise, then, that when the county's jobless rate peaked at 15.9 percent in 2010, it did so at around the same time Clark College's enrollment topped 16,500.
Administrators say health science classes aren't the only bright spots for the college as the winter term kicks off.
Running Start, which offers college classes to talented high schoolers, continues to boast strong numbers, posting an 89-student increase over last year. The college also has enrolled more international students -- 123, a 44-student increase over the start of 2013.
Monday was also the resumption of class for the county's public schools.
Washington State University Vancouver begins its spring semester next week.