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Clark College president reports 10% enrollment increase, $1M gift from Cowlitz Indian Tribe in State of the College Address

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 14, 2024, 7:52pm
5 Photos
Clark College President Karin Edwards speaks to the crowd while giving her State of the College address Wednesday morning. The speech provided updates on enrollment and other metrics, as well as previewed a strategic planning process set for the coming months.
Clark College President Karin Edwards speaks to the crowd while giving her State of the College address Wednesday morning. The speech provided updates on enrollment and other metrics, as well as previewed a strategic planning process set for the coming months. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Prolonged enrollment decline. Staff turnover. Brutal inflation.

Secondary education has struggled along with the rest of the world in recent years, a reality that Clark College President Karin Edwards admitted Wednesday.

But, on the heels of a 10 percent enrollment spike to start the year, Edwards said in her annual State of the College address she’s excited for what’s in store in the coming years at Clark — a sensation that’s been hard to come by since she started her position in 2020.

“It has not slipped my mind that today is Valentine’s Day, so I must say something about love, I guess,” Edwards said. “I can very easily say there’s a lot of love that goes on here at Clark College.”

A laundry list of local and state dignitaries attended Edwards’ address Wednesday, from Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle to representatives from the offices of Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Vancouver, and more. The address was rescheduled last month due to a week of winter storms that blanketed the region in snow and ice.

Edwards also used the address as an opportunity to announce a $1 million gift from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to support long-term projects and grant programs for students.

“This historic gift will empower us to drive innovation, address pressing needs and create a campus environment that aligns with our commitment to equity,” Edwards said. “The Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s contribution will have a lasting impact on our students, faculty and the community at large.”

The gift will allow the school to launch the Clark College Innovation Fund, a separate pool of money dedicated to student-faculty research. The money will also go toward emergency grants and sponsorship programs for students met with unexpected life challenges.

Signs of growth

In addition to the Cowlitz gift, Edwards pointed to a handful of other grants aiding the school’s success and development of new programs.

Last year, Clark was awarded another $2 million in federal Title III funding — a five-year grant from the Department of Education to improve internal data collection and support other services.

Edwards said the school is actively seeking another National Science Foundation grant for additional research opportunities. Clark received $1 million in federal funding last year to develop a Center for Clean Energy as part of the Boschma Farms campus opening in 2025 in Ridgefield. The school also received a $141,260 grant last year to develop a surgical technician program starting fall 2024, another program the school hopes will produce graduates in high-demand science and technology fields.

The school doled out $24.5 million in financial aid to 3,654 students in the 2023-2024 school year and received another $2 million from the Clark College Foundation. The foundation also helped provide $60,000 in grants to support students experiencing housing insecurity and another $70,000 for students experiencing food insecurity.

Edwards said the school is unsure about whether it will need to make budget reductions next year, but she hopes changes in enrollment might help. The college addressed the current deficit by cutting staff and tapping the school’s emergency fund balance.

“We’re optimistic the increase in enrollment will lower the amount we need to pull from the fund balance,” Edwards said. “The state fully funded the cost-of-living increases for staff (last year). That was tremendous for us.”

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