Clark College President Karin Edwards invoked the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson in her summary of the year of goals and challenges that lies ahead for the school.
“The mind, once stretched to a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
In Clark’s case, Edwards applied the proverb to the notion that the role of higher education in the coming years can’t seek to return to a pre-pandemic state of operations.
There are lessons that have been learned, and there will certainly be more.
Monday marked the first day of the new school year at the community college, where students returned to the highest number of in-person classes since 2019. Approximately 40 percent of the school’s classes, Edwards said, have an in-person component. The majority will continue to be either fully remote or a hybrid of sorts.
Maintaining the flexibility of hybrid options, Edwards said, isn’t something that will be done away with anytime soon.
“For some students, it’s a wonderful opportunity to continue their education,” Edwards said. “Specifically for community college students. One term to the next, if something comes up, they don’t have to interrupt their education because that virtual option is available. The important thing for us is to provide the same quality online and in-person.”
Leo Sanchez, a second-year student at Clark hoping to graduate at the end of the fall term, was disappointed that one of his in-person statistics classes was canceled due to low enrollment. He typically likes his math classes to be in-person, but he has embraced the availability of remote options as a benefit for himself and other students.
“My accounting classes, for example, I definitely prefer to be online,” Sanchez said. “That balance will stick around because so many students enjoy having stuff be online.”
In Clark’s Gaiser Hall, a particularly bustling building near the heart of campus, a handful of different service desks aid students in registration options, finding out where to go next and assessing potential remote options for certain classes.
The one-stop desk, for example, is among Clark’s new additions to help students navigate the puzzle of schedule-building, according to a school spokesperson. In many ways, the school has pivoted to prioritize assisting students in creating a flexible education, much like what was outlined by leadership at neighboring Washington State University Vancouver at the beginning of its school year last month.
In developing their new strategic plan, Clark officials are focusing on enhancing services like mental health aid and the provision of resources for housing and food insecurity as a new primary role for the school going forward. As a community college, they also want to do more to allow students to take a pause from learning and come back when they’re able to, even years later.
Two resources they encourage students to take advantage of this year in particular, for example, are the Penguin Pantry — an on-campus center that provides monthly food boxes to students who may need them — and Workforce Education Services, which maintains programs for students pursuing vocational careers or apprenticeship programs.
“If there’s any uncertainty in your future, we can help with that. We can help provide a path to clarity,” Edwards said. “It’s definitely an opportunity for us in the new year to work toward doing more for our students in that way.”