Funding the future
Growth and stability in our community hinges on balanced state funding
By Chato Hazelbaker
The Columbia River is where Clark County begins geographically and historically. It is impossible to imagine the region without the river. The waterway is a powerful force that touches every corner of our community, shaping history, commerce, transportation and culture. However, despite its omnipresence, it is easy to forget in our day-to-day lives. Likewise, Clark College is easily taken for granted.
For more than 80 years, Clark College has built momentum like the mighty Columbia; it shapes and is shaped by our community. The college graduates more than 2,000 students annually and there have been approximately 24,000 graduates over the past decade. Alumni move into family-wage jobs and build careers while employers reap the benefits of having a local, affordable education provider producing a qualified workforce.
Furthermore, Clark as an employer has an annual economic impact of more than $507 million on the region. Spending by students, faculty, and staff, building projects and payroll for more than 1,000 employees pours resources into the local economy, according to a recent study by Economic Modeling Systems Inc. (EMSI).
However, a storm is brewing that has the potential to destabilize our community’s future. It is the gale of the lack of state funding.
There are several funding options under review in the 2017 state of Washington Legislature budget process that will affect the college over the next two years. These decisions create a chain reaction that directly influence college operations and plans for the future. Specifically, what our legislative leaders decide determines the number of students the college is able to serve, the rate of growth for programs demanded by regional employers and the timeline for the building of a new campus—Clark College at Boschma Farms.
Funding from the state of Washington is only one funding source for Clark, but it provides the platform for the overall college budget. Each biennium, as part of the State Board of Community and Technical College system (SBCTC), Clark College watches closely as legislators set two budgets. The first is the operating budget, which provides funds for the basic operations of the college such as program funding, teaching activities, student services, and faculty and staff salaries. The second is the capital budget, which pays for the physical infrastructure—maintenance and creation of new buildings and facilities—that serves our students.
Each biennium, the SBCTC approaches the legislature to address the collective needs of the state’s 34 community and technical colleges, including a list of capital project requests across the state. This year, Clark College at Boschma Farms was included in the $338 million SBCTC capital project list. It is project number 20 on the list at a cost of $5.2 million. The money will design the first building on the new Ridgefield campus. A cornerstone initiative, this campus could include advanced manufacturing, career and technical education. Moreover, it will spur other development in north Clark County and Ridgefield such as establishments in retail, and food and beverage.
However, right now state funding for Clark College at Boschma Farms is uncertain. The governor’s initial budget funded the first 18 projects on the SBCTC’s capital list, leaving off seven of the projects the state board had prioritized—including the request to begin building Clark College at Boschma Farms.
“If we can start design in the summer of 2017, we are confident we will see funds for construction in 2020. That means we could open a building in 2021. If those design funds don’t come, the timeline would be pushed back at least two years,” said Bob Williamson, vice president of Administrative Services at Clark.
“Additionally, not being included in this biennium’s capital project funding could potentially impact the funding for construction of the building in 2020, creating even greater delays in the project,” said Williamson.
The SBCTC has also asked for an additional $200 million in new money during the 2017-2019 biennium to support four priorities: funding stabilization, closing skill gaps to fill jobs, investing in teaching and learning, and creating a safe learning environment. All of the SBCTC colleges would get access to the funds based on enrollment. Clark College would receive over $9 million additional dollars during the next biennium for these initiatives.
Funding stabilization is a key priority for colleges. SBCTC colleges have to find local money or reallocate state dollars regularly in order to cover costs not fully funded by the legislature. For example, during the previous biennium the legislature set aside funds for faculty and staff salary cost of living adjustments, but did not allocate enough for all faculty and staff. The request now before the legislature would provide retroactive funding for these types of costs. This funding also ensures Clark College can continue to attract and retain talented employees.
Closing skills gaps and filling jobs is part of Clark College’s mission and commitment to our community. If funded, the additional resources would support new investments for student success programs and the addition of at least 15,000 more degrees and certificates over the next two years across all of the SBCTC colleges.
One of the student success initiatives supported by these funds is Guided Pathways. It is a research-based approach providing students with simple and clear choices to reach their educational goals. Grouped courses lead to specific career paths that funnel directly into jobs or transfer students to four-year institutions. The approach also integrates intensive and targeted advising that supports students from enrollment through completion of their degree.
Our requests for this biennium not only serve to meet new strategic goals and initiatives, but to counterbalance trends in underfunding from past years. The makeup of funding for Clark has been shifting for over a decade with smaller portions coming from Washington taxpayers. For instance, during 2016-2017, $31 million came from the state, while just under $34 million came from tuition and fees. In other words, students now pay around half of the cost of their education, while the state kicks in half.
Over an eight-year period, Washington State cut funding for public higher education by 20 percent. Tuition has risen by 50 percent.
This is a significant change. Tuition has risen steadily at the same time that state support has declined. Between 2008 and 2016, Washington State cut funding for public higher education by 20 percent while tuition rose by 50 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Likewise, funding for capital projects at two-year colleges has also decreased. During 2007-2009, spending on capital projects in the two-year system peaked at $525 million. From 2015 to 2017, the total allocation was $274 million, less than what was allocated in the 2001-2003 biennium. This year the system has asked for $338 million to ease a backlog of projects that gives students access to modern and well-maintained buildings, as well as develops facilities to expand existing programs or offer new ones.
There are many ways community members can ensure Clark remains relevant and accessible to residents in southwest Washington.
“We have really appreciated how engaged our local community and our local legislators have been in supporting the college, but we need more,” said Robert K. Knight, president of Clark College. Knight testified in Olympia about the combined importance of the operating funds and capital projects. He and others, including Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow, have testified before the House Higher Education Committee.
Read about what Clark students are doing to tackle the high-cost of textbooks.
Knight suggests supporters of the college tell their own stories about how Clark College affects their lives when talking with others.
“I like to think about the students in the north part of Clark County who would have a place close by to get an education, and the manufacturers and others who will need to just go down the street in order to expand their workforce once the campus in Ridgefield opens,” Knight said.
Supporters can also contact their legislators by writing letters, calling or emailing their local representatives. Getting involved on campus by volunteering, becoming a member of the alumni association or mentoring students are other ways to engage.
The future of Clark is in the hands of our elected officials. Their leadership will set the stage for access to education—and productivity in our region—for the next 100 years. The legislature has a chance to vote in favor of building the next rural college campus in Ridgefield, which will prepare residents for life-changing technical and professional jobs. They also have an obligation to fund Clark’s operations so that we can fulfill our mission to our service district and continue our momentum alongside the mighty Columbia River.
Reach out to your local representatives to discuss your thoughts on the State Board of Community and Technical College (SBCTC) capital and operating budget requests in their entirety. Let them know why you value Clark College.
Click here more information about SBCTC’s legislative agenda, budget requests and roster of legislators.
Chato Hazelbaker, Ed.D., is Clark College’s chief communication and information officer.