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News / Clark County News

Clark College announces $5.5 million in budget cuts

Dozens of positions lost after enrollment drop of nearly 31% due to pandemic

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: May 15, 2020, 5:03pm

Clark College announced $5.5 million in budget cuts, slashing dozens of positions after enrollment fell by nearly 31 percent from last year during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Vancouver community college will lay off 12 classified employees, 10 faculty members and 10 administrators in July. The layoffs and other cuts at the college represent an 8.5 percent reduction in its roughly $73.4 million budget.

In a budget presentation Thursday, college Vice President Bob Williamson acknowledged the difficulty of laying people off in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

“We have hurt, we have anger, we have fear,” he said.

Declining enrollment and rising expenses have put the college in the position of having to make back-to-back budget cuts, exacerbated by the pandemic. Head count at the college this spring quarter is 8,241, down from 11,932 a year ago. Of those, 4,043 are considered full-time, tuition paying students, who generate the bulk of the college’s revenue. That’s down from 4,793 in spring 2019.

February estimates suggested declining enrollment would inflict an approximately a $1.3 million hit to the college budget, but those estimates don’t reflect the steeper-than-projected declines that ultimately occurred.

College spokeswoman Kelly Love said enrollment staff are following up with students who have dropped out to ask what prompted them to leave the school, and to what degree the pandemic has been to blame.

“They’re digging down, finding out: ‘Was it personal? Was it financial? Did you move out of the area? What changed?'” she said.

Meanwhile, college expenses are set to increase by about $5.4 million, mostly as salary increases, according to a February budget presentation. Cost-of-living allocations and employee classification changes are expected to cost $1.6 million. College budget documents report that implementing the faculty’s new contract, which the Clark Association for Higher Education and college agreed to in January following a strike, is expected to cost $2.2 million in 2020-2021.

Suzanne Southerland, president of the college’s faculty union, the Association for Higher Education, said she was disappointed by the news, noting that some of the affected professors have more than a decade of experience at the college.

“I wish we would have found a way to avoid laying off these committed, qualified, caring professors at least until we could find out if we’d get some federal relief to keep them,” Southerland said.

The chances of federal funds being available to offset cuts appears slim. Clark College received $5 million from the federal coronavirus stimulus act, CARES, but half of the money must be used for grants and emergency support for students, Love said. The other half can be used to cover the cost of new purchases to respond to the pandemic, such as computers for students or costs accrued by moving classes online.

Clark College could take further hits following the state’s mid-June revenue forecast, Williamson warned. Preliminary projections by the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council have suggested the state could face a $7 billion revenue shortfall; Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday ordered state agencies to prepare for 15 percent budget cuts.

“We need to hear much more from the state about what the cuts are going to look like,” Williamson said. “Things are changing rapidly.”

Columbian Education Reporter