Clark College could face a deficit of up to $1 million in the 2017-2018 budget, a year after a $2.2 million cut from the 2016-2017 spending plan.
In an email sent to faculty and staff in late March, President Bob Knight attributed the deficit to an ongoing enrollment crisis. Knight said declining enrollment affects both the college’s state funding and its tuition, which accounts for 78 percent of the college’s operating revenue.
Knight said that enrollment is still declining, but at a slower rate.
The college retained 77 percent of its degree-seeking students from fall to winter 2016-2017, compared with 79 percent the previous school year, according to Associate Vice President of Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl.
Diehl said there were 5,538 state-funded quarterly full-time students this winter, down from 5,822 in the fall. The state counts a full-time student as a bundle of 15 credits of classes by either a single student or more, excluding Running Start students.
In May 2016, Knight said that low enrollment was due to improvements in the local economy, which prompts fewer people to seek training for new jobs and opportunities.
The enrollment shortfall affects both the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges’ budget and several state and federal grants, said Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook.
The Worker Retraining Program, which helps people who have been laid off obtain education needed for new jobs, lost $15,000 and in 2018, the Perkins Grant will have lost $163,023 since 2015. But Cook said the biggest cuts have been made to the Work First Program, which has a budget of about $600,000 and will lose 39 percent of its funding.
In preparation for budget cuts, Knight asked that every department find 1 to 2 percent of its budget to eliminate if necessary. Department heads presented their findings to college executives on Tuesday.
Cook, however, is optimistic that the deficit won’t hit $1 million.
“Worst-case scenario is we have that 2 percent cut,” Cook said. “Best-case is that the [legislative] budgets work in our favor, they increase Running Start allocation … and the deficit is decreased to where we don’t have to make reductions. I think we’ll fall somewhere in the middle.”
According to Knight, there won’t be any impact on tuition or Clark’s Boschma Farms campus project, which are both set separately by the state. Still, layoffs are on the table.
While Cook said he doesn’t foresee instructor layoffs, he does anticipate belt-tightening for other unnamed expenditures in instruction.
When cuts were made two years ago, Cook said the departments with the larger budgets saw larger reductions — about 60 to 65 percent of the college’s budget is spent on instruction, so it bore more of the burden in terms of budget cuts.
But avoiding future shortfalls will take more than cuts, Cook said.
Knight said he’s optimistic that enrollment will increase thanks to Clark’s future culinary institute, the Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Applied Management degree and implementation of a guided pathways model of courses, which guides students into a more focused study plan.
Diehl said the culinary and BASAM projects could each only attract 15 to 25 full-time students, but might draw in more.
“When you have really good programs, whether it be nursing or dental hygiene or culinary or BASAM, it piques people’s interests in the community,” Diehl said. “They’re more likely to look at Clark as an option.”
Diehl also echoed Knight’s sentiment on Guided Pathways, which Diehl said will be installed over the next four years.
“The Guided Pathways is one of, if not the highest, priority of this college,” Diehl said. “All colleges in the nation that have implemented these have found 20 percentage points plus retention increase from fall to fall.”
Cook said he agrees that Pathways are critical for Clark’s future.
“It’s about raising retention, plugging the hole at the bottom,” Cook said. “I feel like a broken record, but if we had had Pathways in place a few years ago, I don’t think we would be where we are now.”
Knight said that while some decisions will likely be made soon after Tuesday’s Executive Cabinet meeting, full clarity on the extent of the deficit and resulting cuts won’t be clear until the state budget is finalized.
“For every dollar that’s spent on education there’s a return to this community and to the state of over $2,” Knight said. “We have a $507 million annual impact on the economy … They know that if they cut education they’ll have more troubles with mental health, crime, all sorts of social issues in the community.”
Benji Grundner is a senior reporter for The Independent, Clark College’s student newspaper. This story was written as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College. It was also published in The Independent.