Clark College: Where Everyone Knows Your Name

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State of College Address welcomes the community and prepares for 80th anniversary

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President Robert K. Knight pauses during a light moment at the State of the College address.

President Robert K. Knight pauses during a light moment at the State of the College address.

As Clark College nears its 80th anniversary, its longevity can be seen both as a great challenge and a great strength. Clark College President Robert K. Knight explored that theme during his annual State of the College Address, held January 17 in Gaiser Student Center.

“When you’ve been part of a region for 80 years, most people know your name,” he said. “They know of you. 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.”

Knight went on to list some of the things that distinguishes Clark College from other community colleges, including its outstanding engineering, nursing, dental hygiene, welding, machining, automotive, diesel and other programs.

He spoke of the Running Start program (the largest in the state), the eLearning program, which 20 percent of all for-credit students participate in, its exemplary Mature Learning program and partnerships with regional development organizations such as the Columbia River Economic Development Council, Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, Washington State University Vancouver, the High Tech Council of Clark County and local school districts.

He also noted that last year Clark became Washington state’s largest single-campus community college in terms of for-credit classes, serving 26,000 students each year.

“We are not the small college that many people remember,” he said. “We are big and we are growing.”

Knight elaborated on the many ways Clark is growing through such projects as a soon-to-be-built STEM building on its main campus and a new campus in north or central Clark County. He also noted that the college has begun developing new programs like Health Informatics and Mechatronics to meet workforce needs, and may consider offering bachelor’s degrees in some fields in the future. He added that the college would work with WSU Vancouver in creating baccalaureate programs.

Knight touched on other ways the college is adapting to meeting the demands of the economy. He highlighted the college’s recent use of lean processes to improve how Student Affairs and Instruction function. He pointed out the benefits of two recent relocations: Corporate and Continuing Education (CCE) and Adult Basic Education/English as a Second Language (ESL).

CCE’s move to downtown Vancouver provides more support for the local business community. Meanwhile, ABE/ ESL’s move from Town Plaza to the T Building on the main campus gives students greater access to student services and educational resources.

President Knight gestures while talking about improvements to campus.

President Knight gestures while talking about improvements to campus.

“We hope they will not just complete basic education, but will cross the road to continue their education by taking college courses,” Knight said of the ABE/ESL students.

Knight pointed out that all of these improvements and developments are being done at a time of deep budget cuts. At Clark’s 75th anniversary, he said, about 60 percent of the college’s funding came from the state; today, that number is below 40 percent. As a result, students endure a greater economic burden as tuition continues to rise, while faculty and staff accept temporary wage reductions.

Knight thanked Clark College Foundation for raising money for scholarships and program improvements to offset a portion of the state budget cuts, while acknowledging that such success also creates a challenge.

“Ironically, because Clark College Foundation does such great work, they have a perception problem,” he said. “Some people believe they have more than enough money to meet the needs of the college. That’s just not true,” because there are restrictions on how the majority of the money can be spent or allotted.

Knight concluded his speech by asking audience members—both employees and students, as well as friends and community leaders—to work with common goals in mind for the betterment of the college.

“Together, we can support our students’ dreams, and fulfill our vision for our college and our region, by putting Clark first,” he said.

After the speech, some audience members visited the new ABE/ESL facility. Vancouver City Councilor Jeanne Harris, a Clark alumna, said she appreciated Knight’s overview of where the college is and where it is heading.

“It helps those of us who are on campus maybe once a year to put it all together,” she said. “It made me proud of Clark College.”

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