“This is Everyone’s Problem”

Clark's Enrollment Emergency

Photo of Clark College sign on Fort Vancouver Way

Enrollment has sunk so low that Clark officials are calling it a crisis.

College officials have already trimmed  about $2 million from next year’s more than $60 million operating budget, largely because sinking enrollment results in fewer tuition dollars.

Now, the enrollment deficit threatens to impact the amount of money the college gets from the state.

“If we can’t turn it around next year, it means we’re in big trouble budget-wise,” said Vice President of Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl, speaking of an enrollment downtrend.

President Bob Knight elaborated on the situation during a 90-minute Penguin Roundtable late last month, which more than 150 faculty and staff members turned out for.

“I want to be straight-up,” Knight said at the meeting. “We have an enrollment problem right now, and it hasn’t transferred directly to our budget. But it will.”

Knight said the college lost the equivalent of more than 1,100 full-time students from 2014 to 2015. It also received 750 fewer applications during that time.

The state funds Clark based on every full-time-equivalent student — or 15 credits — the college serves. According to Diehl, the college served 6,619 FTEs in 2015-16, the lowest since 2001-02.

The state created a new model, which will become effective in July, for allocating funding to the college based on the number of FTEs enrolled. The previous model based funding on the population of the college’s service area, according to Diehl.

“The next round of budget cuts will be because of a lack of funding from the state,” Diehl said. “They are funding us on what we actually serve.”

The president responded to a question during the forum about how Clark’s situation compares with other colleges in the state.

“We were the most over-enrolled college for the past decade, so other colleges have been dealing with this for years but weren’t being penalized for it,” Knight said. “This is relatively new for us. All of the enrollments in community colleges continue to go down. Ours seems to be going faster than others.”

Knight asked the tables of six to eight people at the forum for their ideas on how to turn the situation around.

“We’re all in this together,” Knight said. “This is not a Student Affairs problem … this is not an instructor or faculty problem … this is not a Bob Knight problem … this is everybody’s problem.”

Some ideas proposed at the forum were phoning students to ask if they need help with enrollment, simplifying the online enrollment process, providing financial incentives for students who enroll on time, confirming online enrollment with an email or webpage and improving the financial aid process.

Knight offered some positive observations on the horizon which he said he hopes will improve the numbers. For one, he pointed to a 2-credit course requirement, College 101, which will be mandatory for new students beginning Summer quarter and is designed to improve student success. He also pointed to the efforts by the college to expand to north Clark County with a campus at Boschma Farms, which is slated to open in Fall 2021, and the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building set to open on the main campus in Fall.

Knight also referred to the culinary program renewal, which was slated to open in Spring 2017. However, late last week Knight sent an email to faculty and staff noting that bids to construct the addition were more than $1 million above Clark’s target, calling it a “temporary setback.”

Faculty union president and English professor Kimberly Sullivan said she would like more student participation in resolving the challenge. She suggested the college hold a student forum.

“When I talked to my students, I had a page-long list of their concerns and problems in their experience,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also encouraged faculty to reach out to their students to ask their opinions.

Enrollment and retention have declined

Data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and Clark College.

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