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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Clark College president focuses on equity

Edwards also discusses budget issues due to pandemic in address

By , Columbian staff writer

Clark College first-year President Karin Edwards spoke on advancing racial equity in higher education, continuing budget challenges facing the college and how the school has responded to COVID-19 in her virtual State of the College Address.

The 35-minute address late last week was the school’s second attempt at delivering Edwards’ message. It cited technical issues when the prerecorded video was pulled from its website and YouTube minutes into its debut Jan. 28.

Two students joined Edwards in the video: Josiah Joner, president of the Associated Students of Clark College, and fellow student Tosha Big Eagle.

Edwards, who was hired in February 2020 and began her new role as president in June, centered much of her address around racial equity. Recent school data shows what she called “clear disparities” of how students of color and those from other systemically nondominant communities experience additional barriers in the classroom and community.

Edwards said 43 percent of Clark students of color completed introductory-level English courses, compared with 53 percent of white students. Eighty percent of students of color passed other gateway courses, such as math, compared to 86 percent of white students.

She added the school’s “equity lens” will oversee programs and policies on classroom curriculum, student services and hiring of staff. Additionally, $1 million from the state’s Workforce Investment Act will be used to increase equity training, developing culturally relevant and anti-racist curriculum and increasing outreach to communities of color.

“Equity is woven into everything we do,” Edwards said. … “It’s important to celebrate progress. It’s equally important to remind ourselves we have much work to do to close the equity gaps to increase student success.”

Pandemic problems

Edwards acknowledged how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the entire Clark community. Its student food pantry remains open and has distributed 576 food boxes to students, despite most classes running remotely since last spring. Additionally, the school loaned out nearly 900 laptops and Wi-Fi hot spots to students.

“For far too many of our students, 2020 wasn’t a typical year — it was worse,” Edwards said.

Edwards also addressed the pandemic’s financial toll on Clark. She reported enrollment is down 15 percent across fall and winter quarters — including 19 percent fewer first-year students — leading to a $2.2 million budget deficit for the current budget year. CARES Act funding could partially offset the deficit, but Edwards added the school is anticipating more cuts by the Legislature.

Edwards said Clark plans to partially close the budget gap by utilizing $7.7 million in CARES Act funding and also use savings from underspending areas. But she warned rising costs and decreasing revenue won’t completely close the long-term gap.

“I want to be optimistic, but I also need to be realistic,” Edwards said. “We anticipate cuts at the state level, and those cuts will impact our ability to serve students. We believe revenue will increase as enrollment improves, but it will take time.”

Edwards’ full address can be viewed online at www.clark.edu.