What makes Clark College unique? What is new and exciting at Clark College this academic year? What does the future hold for Clark College? These were a few of the big questions that Clark College President Robert K. Knight discussed with audience members during the Jan. 17 State of the College Address.
“Above everything else, Clark College is all about the student,” Knight said. “That statement may sound very simple and obvious, but I feel it is critically important to keep that statement at the forefront of everything we do. I believe many organizations fail because they forget why they exist.”
Students, faculty and community members gathered in the Gaiser Student Center the morning of Jan. 17 to hear Knight give his annual State of the College Address. After telling audience members that Clark College will celebrate its 80th anniversary this October, Knight said that when someone has been part of a region for 80 years, most people know their name.
“They know of you,” Knight said. “But, they may not know much about you. Or, they may remember you as you were years ago. They may not know who you are today.”
So, Knight said he felt it was important to address these two important questions – who is Clark College today and what makes the college unique?
As he described Clark College to those in attendance, Knight talked about growth and said that each year, Clark serves 26,000 students in the region. He said that last year, in terms of for-credit classes, Clark became the largest single-campus community college in Washington state.
Knight also described some of the departments and programs at Clark College, including the engineering department, nursing, dental hygiene, welding, machining, diesel and others. Knight also said Clark is home to the largest Running Start program in the state, this year welcoming more than 1,800 Running Start students, up 9 percent from last year.
“Today, Clark College is (also) a regional partner to the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, our local school districts, WSU Vancouver, the High Tech Council of Clark County and many more outstanding organizations,” Knight said. “Clark is a regional leader. We are one the largest employers in Southwest Washington with over 1,100 employees full and part time. We are home to scores of outstanding arts, humanities, multicultural and athletics events for the entire community.”
Similar to other institutions, Knight said Clark College still has challenges and successes. Recently, one of the largest challenges Clark has faced are cuts in state funding. Back when the college celebrated its 75th anniversary, Knight said about 60 percent of the college’s funding came from the state. Today, however, he said it’s down to about 40 percent.
“This has led to budget cuts across the college,” Knight said. “This year, as we continue to deal with high enrollment, everyone at the college has taken a 3 percent pay cut – while they continue to serve tens of thousands of students – and to do it with fewer dollars and resources. Their service, to our students and our region, has been remarkable. Our people are a vitally-important part of what makes Clark College unique.”
Knight said budget cuts mean that Clark students are paying more for tuition and more and more are seeking financial aid and student loans. By November of 2012, Knight said Clark’s Financial Aid Office had served nearly 10,000 students and awarded nearly $60 million in financial aid.
“We know what this means,” he said. “It means that our students are relying more and more on loans, not just for their education, but for their everyday expenses. This means more debt for our students. That will not only impact them and their future, it will impact our region. It will have long-term consequences, not only for our students but for our regional economy.”
Along with Clark’s challenges, there are also numerous successes. One of those successes has been the Penguin Promise Program, a program Knight announced last year during the 2012 State of the College Address. The program is a partnership of Clark College, the Clark College Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington.
This program provides a pathway for some members of the Boys and Girls Clubs to enter and complete their education at Clark College. Knight said they will receive scholarships for tuition, fees and books, and a program mentor. When these students graduate, they will be eligible to compete for a transfer scholarship to a four-year university.
“I am proud to say that our partners in the Clark College Foundation have received commitments for $522,000 in donations toward that exciting program,” Knight said. “With their support, 18 students are now in the Penguin Promise Program. We can’t wait to welcome them to Clark College.”
What does the future hold for Clark College? Knight said they have been taught to “dream big” and are doing so with their aspirations for the college. Some of those aspirations include ensuring Clark students are getting the support they need, being a healthy Penguin Nation, being sustainable and “green” and more. Those aspirations also include a new building devoted to science, technology, engineering and math – called STEM – on the west side of Fort Vancouver Way.
In the coming months, Knight said they also hope to announce the location for the new Clark College facility in North or Central Clark County. Collective, Knight said when he first outlined all of these plans and aspirations, he called it the college’s Vision 2020.
“Vision 2020 and all of our goals take teamwork, leadership and, yes, vision,” Knight said. “I look forward to sharing our Vision 2020 goals with you in my 2014 State of the College Address.”