Clark College budget avoids cutting active positions amid multi-million dollar deficit


Clark College is planning to make about $3.1 million in budget cuts and plans to draw down some of its reserve funds in its 2023-24 budget.

The planned cuts won’t include the loss of active positions, according to the college.

The Clark College Board of Trustees is scheduled to take a vote on next year’s budget during its June 7 meeting. Two weeks prior, the board received an update on the budget, which paints a rosier picture than what was presented earlier in the year.

In order to balance next year’s budget, the college has to make about $3.1 million in cuts and will utilize about $3.3 million from its reserves, according to a presentation to the board on May 25.

The number of students attending Clark College has been the primary driver of the institution’s need to reduce its budget, the college’s vice president of operations Sabra Sand said. Enrollment has dropped significantly over the past five years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and hasn’t recovered.

During the height of the pandemic, money received at the federal level helped the college get by without the need to make drastic changes to the budget, Sand said.

“Those dollars have now been exhausted and so we’re really faced with aligning our budget with our actual enrollment,” Sand said.

A drop in enrollment means a drop in funds from the state, which alongside mandated cost of living adjustments, leads to a shortfall.

Cost of living adjustments aren’t always fully funded by the state, Sand said. Through lobbying in Olympia, Clark College was able to cover those increases, which reduced the initial deficit from about $8.8 million to roughly $6.4 million, according to the presentation.

“It’s not common at all” to be able to successfully lobby for the funds the college received this year, Sand said. Through correspondence with local legislators and by having a presence at the  Capitol in Olympia, the college was able to see the additional funds realized.

The majority of the roughly $3.1 million in budget cuts will come from reducing 11 vacant positions at the college, according to the presentation.

Earlier budget scenarios marked a faculty counselor alongside a few classified staff and administrative positions for potential cuts, Sand said. The college had conversations with those affected employees ahead of time, Sand said, though ultimately they won’t be cut in the current budget.

Though next year’s budget is balanced, Clark College will face a similar situation in subsequent years. The institution will take a “stair-step” approach for those budgets, as the presentation put it, by making small reductions while using its fund balance.

The college is expected to receive increases in state-funded students, mainly in “transitional students.” Sand explained those include students who are completing high school-level coursework ahead of when they would complete more traditional college coursework.

Looking at areas where Clark College can grow its enrollment, and thus revenue, can help offset the need to make large cuts to its budget, Sand said.

The budget is up for a formal vote by the Clark College Board of Trustees on June 7. Ahead of the vote, Sand believed the budget would be approved as presented two weeks prior.