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Aug. 9, 2022

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Clark College president previews what is in store for 2022

Equity, expansion among top goals this year

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

2022 is set to be a big year for Clark College.

Clark College president Karin Edwards gave the school’s annual state of the college address on Jan. 20, highlighting equity and expansion as the college’s biggest goals in the coming months.

Edwards stepped into the role just three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2020. Her speech dipped into themes of unity and peacemaking from Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” — referencing the former first lady’s words as positive mantras to help push Clark through the pandemic.

“Clark is a pillar in our community, known for accessible education, training and developing our local workforce, and a wonderful place to get started,” Edwards said.

“That is all good. I would challenge us to also become known for closing opportunity gaps.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion has been a major concern at the school in recent years following the departure of former president Bob Knight in 2018. An investigation revealed that Knight had received complaints of discrimination and racial insensitivity over the 13 years he served as president.

Edwards emphasized Guided Pathways — a student-centered model to reshape antiquated institutions in education — as a major program that will shape learning and curriculum development in the coming years.

As has been common in colleges across the nation, Clark College has seen a steep decrease in enrollment since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2015-16, the school reported as many as 8,400 full-time equivalents. This year — the third school year in the pandemic — Edwards estimates Clark will finish the year with just 5,500 full-time equivalents.

Since returning from winter break, Clark has adopted a half-and-half learning schedule of its own amid the omicron surge. About 40 percent of winter term classes are currently offering an on-campus component, whether that’s fully in-person or a hybrid of sorts, according to the school’s website.

Remote education, however, isn’t being touted as “the new normal” at Clark.

Clark’s student government president, Xander Hawkins said the pandemic remains an “ongoing crisis” that’s deeply impacted students.

His main goal, he said, is just to ensure safety for students and staff as the pandemic continues on.

Student supports, Edwards said, were a priority in 2021. Through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — also known as “CARES” — Clark distributed an estimated $3 million to students in the fall 2021 term.

Two more local programs aim to continue supporting students in the coming years.

Edwards referenced a $350,000 investment into Clark’s Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program made by the Cowlitz Tribal Foundation Clark County Fund, which she hopes to use to provide loans and scholarships for students of color.

A joint ongoing fundraising effort with Washington State University Vancouver and Lower Columbia College in Longview, known as the RAISE project, hopes to receive $250,000 in donations over the next five years to do similar equity work.

Among the largest projects on Clark’s plate this year — and perhaps in the school’s history — are the next steps toward developing its new satellite campus in Ridgefield.

The campus, which is set to be built and designed by Mortenson-Hennebery Eddy, will feature research labs in neuroscience, biology, nursing research and more. It’s set to be completed in time for the fall 2024 semester.

The expansion is a major piece in the school’s upcoming strategic planning process, which will begin this spring. The school is also in the process of finding a new CEO for its foundation following the departure of Lisa Gibert in the coming months.

Gibert, who has served as the Clark County Foundation’s leader for 16 years, will continue to play a role in the school’s funding acquisition and expansion projects while they begin the search. The foundation hopes to award an estimated $1.2 million in scholarships and financial aid to next year’s students.

Much of 2022’s budgeting will go to backfilling losses in revenue from years prior.

Clark is set to use just over $3.6 million in CARES funding to offset lost revenue from tuition costs in 2021. Overall tuition rates are set to increase 2.8 percent.

Though the 2021-22 budget is far larger than last year’s due to the beginning of capital construction projects, Edwards said the college community will move forward with the understanding that they are, in fact, a smaller school than they once were.

“It is important to keep that in mind and begin to consider what we can do as a smaller college, and in the coming years to position ourselves to a variety of student populations,” Edwards said. “As well as find ways to grow revenue sources by bringing in additional students, both credit and noncredit, as well as grants and other contracts.”

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