On Monday The Columbian published an article by The Hechinger Report about community and technical colleges. This article was not an accurate representation of community colleges in Washington in general or specifically Clark College. The article painted broad brush strokes at the national level and used examples from other regions of the country.
The good news is that community colleges are experiencing growing enrollment this spring after declines during the pandemic, according to preliminary data released by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Enrollment at community colleges this spring increased by 2.1 percent over the previous year.
Thousands of successful graduates have come through Clark College — and changed the trajectory of their lives. One recent success story is Vicente, a first-generation college student who enjoys designing and building things. He worked full time while attending Clark, then Washington State University Vancouver, to pursue his dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. Today, Vicente has a promising career and earns a living wage to support his family.
We are responsive to our community’s needs. We have course offerings for everyone from adult basic education, Running Start classes for high school students and continuing education for workforce development. These are augmented with bachelor’s degrees and seamless paths to transfer universities.
We also offer many certificates for people who want to pursue a career in the trades. Navigating college systems can be challenging. This can be especially true for first-generation college students and students for whom English is not their first language.
Here at Clark College, we built a support system to guide students and help them succeed. Recently we implemented interactive program maps to help students plan their classes for every term until they graduate. We trained advisers, enrollment navigators and success coaches to guide students. We created a series of short videos available in English, Spanish and Russian to take students step-by-step through processes like becoming a student or enrolling for classes.
Like other community colleges in Washington, Clark College uses the Guided Pathways framework to increase student success. It focuses on closing equity gaps by providing a transparent, structured educational experience for students as they meet their academic requirements. The four pillars of Guided Pathways are: Clarify the path for students; help students choose and enter a path; help students stay on the path; and ensure that students are learning.
We are guided by an equity-centered strategic plan. Its mission is to cultivate an inclusive, equitable and vibrant community by educating, empowering and elevating individuals to achieve their personal and professional goals. Rooted in social justice, Clark College is a beacon of hope, opportunities and transformation providing excellent and equitable education to promote economic, cultural and community growth.
This year, Clark College is marking its 90th anniversary. For nearly a century, we have been changing the lives of our students and making a difference in this community by providing exceptional, cost-effective education.
While we are not perfect, we have had a profound impact on this community through our work in economic and community development, educating and empowering individuals and families and contributing to the vibrancy of Clark County.
Clark College belongs to all of us, and I invite you to our campus for concerts, plays, art exhibits and sporting events in the coming months. On April 20, please join us at our annual Sakura Festival to celebrate spring under the blossoms of our magnificent Shirofugen cherry trees.
Dr. Karin Edwards is president of Clark College.