Educated Ambition

 In Partners Magazine

Clark College infuses Southwest Washington with an educated workforce

By Rhonda Morin & Barbara Kerr


Claudel Pierre, afraid for his life, fled Haiti by boat during the 1991 refugee crisis. He’d never been in a boat and couldn’t swim. But he was more fearful of being killed by the military members of Papa Doc Duvalier’s brutal regime for teaching reading and writing to other Haitians.

The 21-year-old was lucky that day. The United States Coast Guard emerged on the horizon, picked up and transported the refugees to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He eventually moved to Portland, Ore., worked as a French and Creole translator, and perfected the spoken English he first learned in high school. But he was hamstrung by his inability to write English. That changed last year when he enrolled at Clark College.

“A paragraph was taking me a week to write – just one paragraph. Now I can write a paragraph in a matter of minutes, and that is life changing for me,” Pierre said.

Claudel Pierre heads to class.

Claudel Pierre heads to class.

Now 45, Pierre found solace in Clark College’s Integrated Basic Education & Skills Training (I-BEST) program, which combines basic education, college-level courses and extra support to help students work toward associate or vocational degrees or certificates.

Shifting perceptions

Pierre is one of thousands of students who have come to Clark to learn fundamental skills. Now that the basic education department has moved to the “T” Building on Fort Vancouver Way, these students mingle with other Clark students and can easily assimilate into degree programs.

Meanwhile, the Corporate and Continuing Education department moved to downtown Vancouver in the West Coast Bank Building last year. Businesspeople now have easier access to corporate training and continuing education that gives them the competitive edge in the marketplace.

These and other decisions in 2012 were deliberate in making Clark College more accessible to residents of Southwest Washington.

As the college begins preparations for its 80th anniversary celebration this fall and charts its course for 2020, more time will be spent championing what makes the college distinct. It’s the people. It’s the students. It’s us together.

Students rely on the faculty and staff every day to help guide them through their education. But above everything else Clark College is here to serve students.

Answering the call

We prepare students to be equipped for a changing workforce by making education readily available – physically and financially. Each quarter roughly 15,000 students pass through the doors at one of Clark’s four locations or take online classes.

Clark gives youth a jump on college by educating more than 1,800 Running Start students – up nine percent from last year, the largest in Clark’s history. These high school students routinely pursue four-year degrees and become productive and democratic individuals because of their early access to higher education.

The local and national plea for producing more technical workers has been met at Clark by enrolling nearly twice as many full-time engineering students than any other community and technical college in the state of Washington.And it is the first choice for health care, automotive, diesel and other technical programs in the region.

Keeping pace with the demands of a highly educated workforce has its challenges. In 2006-2007, the state provided nearly 58 percent of the college’s total operating budget.

Today it has plummeted to 38 percent. There have been budget cuts. Faculty, staff and administrators took a three percent pay decrease last year.

Reductions in budgets mean that students pay more. Tuition for Washington residents has risen by 47 percent since 2006-2007. In order to pay the bills, more students are seeking financial aid and student loans. Loans increased 38 percent in 2011-2012 – going from $16.5 million to $22.8 million.

The debt burden has long-term consequences, not only for students but for our regional economy.

Shared responsibility

Clark intends to affect the outcome with the help of the community.

In order to continue meeting the business demands of the region in health care, science, technology, early childhood learning and other fields, the community’s investment is paramount.

Claudel Pierre is relying on the generosity of others as he completes his associate degree. Once he’s finished at Clark, Pierre’s goal is to attend law school and one day practice family law. Through more civic involvement and thoughtful philanthropy, Pierre and others like him will become ambitious members of society.

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