Students, staff, alumni and community members gathered Thursday at Clark College to talk with President Bob Knight about the $2.6 million in proposed cuts to academic programs.
“All across the nation, community colleges are struggling because enrollment is down,” Knight said, responding to audience concerns voiced inside the packed Fireside Room at Gaiser Hall. “We just can’t continue to be spending where we’re at.”
Educational programs in German and French; humanities; reading; addiction counseling; paralegal training; medical radiology; and meteorology would be cut under the proposed budget. Most of the people who showed up Thursday were against eliminating the paralegal program.
“That would seriously hurt not just the Clark County community, but all of Southwest Washington,” said second-year paralegal student Marissa Welch.
The program looks to soon earn American Bar Association accreditation — giving the program more prestige — which likely wouldn’t happen if the ABA knew the program would be eliminated, Welch said. The next closest paralegal program is at Portland Community College, which covers Oregon law and would require students to jump through additional hoops if they want to work in Washington. Otherwise, Welch said, Tacoma Community College is the next closest place with a comparable program.
The next Clark College Board of Trustees meeting is 5 p.m. Wednesday in Gaiser Hall room 213, the Ellis F. Dunn Community Room. Speakers can talk for three minutes during public comment.
“Clark is the only option, basically,” Welch said. “I’m not worried about myself because I’ll be phased out.”
Knight said that any student partway through a two-year program that’s cut would be able to complete their degree.
First- and second-year French students joined the crowd in Gaiser Hall with signs, stating they might take their tuition money to other colleges that offer French classes, such as Portland Community College.
‘It’s going to be difficult’
Clark College hasn’t made any concrete decisions yet about which programs to reduce or cut. The $2.6 million in proposed cuts overshoots the goal of skimming $2 million from the budget, giving officials a $600,000 cushion for the final budget.
The board considers demand, student enrollment and job forecasts, not just which programs lead directly to getting a job or what classes are money-makers, Knight said. Over half of the students at Clark College plan to transfer to four-year colleges or universities. If making money was the goal, the college would only offer English, history and math classes, he said, because those areas of study are popular and don’t cost much to run.
The nursing program is costly, given its hand-on applications in clinics and labs, but there’s a huge demand for it, Knight said. The biggest cut in the proposed budget is $400,000 from the nursing program. It would trim enrollment by a third to match projected job openings over the next five years.
Knight pointed out that the electronics program was cut years ago, and back then there was uproar about eliminating the program. It was, however, replaced by the mechatronics program, making the program a better match for job demands in the high-tech and manufacturing industries. Officials are trying to make smart, data-based decisions, Knight said.
“Regardless of where we cut, it’s going to be difficult,” he said.
Some people in attendance wondered whether there are ways to raise money, such as adding a student fee or increasing tuition to keep programs. Raising money for operational costs is difficult, as donations are typically used to buy supplies and equipment — not to support salaries. Legally, the college can’t use student fees to cover operational costs. That leaves the option of raising tuition rates, which are determined by the state, Knight said.
“I can tell you, there’s a lot of students that wouldn’t be OK with a tuition hike,” he said.
In the 10 years Knight has been president, he’s seen state support decrease, meaning the college relies more heavily on tuition. He said the cuts were a long time coming.
“We’ve got to make decisions,” he said. “We’ll be as transparent as we absolutely can.”
The final proposed budget is slated to be complete by the end of this month.
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