Clark Shuts Down Machining Technology Program

At the Clark College Board of Trustees meeting on May 22, the board announced Machining Technology will be one of three programs shut down due to budget cuts.

This shut down comes at a time where the school has been dealing with budget cuts all around. Now that this program has experienced the butt end of these cuts, students give their input.  

A student in the program for three years, Ryan Johnson, 21, said machining technology jobs are in high demand. He said the college has chosen an inopportune time to shut down the program because now there will not be as many qualified employees entering the workforce.

From left: Niel Viertel, Joe Hirt and Ryan Johnson lament and shared their thoughts with the soon-to-be cut Machining Program. (Karina Garcia/The Indy)

Johnson and 10 other students are graduating this month with their degrees. However, he and other students still had some criticism for the college’s decision. The machining students first found out about the closure from an article in the Columbian, before the dean of the department came in the following day to inform them.

“We actually saw it in the newspaper before our school told us,” Johnson said.

Every quarter the program has different companies asking students to apply after they graduate, Johnson said.

“Machining is always going to be needed,” he said.

Joe Hirt will be graduating in Winter 2020 after joining the program in 2017. According to Hirt, the companies who are looking for qualified machinists range from small local companies to international corporations like Boeing.  

The program closure will cause inconveniences for any future machinists since other programs are about an hour away. Those programs are also not as diverse as Clark’s program, Johnson said.

“This is probably one of the more flushed out programs,” he said. “It’s been well focused because of all the industries being on the committee and voicing their opinions.”

Students also said the local industries who come to recruit students did not agree with the decision to shut down the program.

“They depended on having those programs available in order to take a person in at entry level and hire him on,” Johnson said.

Another graduating student, Neil Viertel, also gave his opinion on the closure.Viertel believes that the college has shot themselves in the foot because the program was not promoted in high schools, he said.  

Other programs, like nursing and music, are frequently promoted in local high schools, resulting in higher enrollment for those programs. Students in the program believe that more could have been done to raise enrollment before shutting the program down.

Todd Gano a long time Clark student, said he believes Clark County will suffer from the shutdown because the county will always be looking for machinists.

“You cannot open up [online job boards] from Eugene to Seattle without seeing job posting for machinists,” Gano said. “There is always room for advancement through machining.”

Another problem that arose due to the cancellation was for veterans who chose to enter the program because they wanted to work for themselves, Hirt said. Now, they will no longer have that option.

“This program allows you to start your own business and be on your own,” Hirt said. “They want to work for themselves.”

The students hope this will not impact the county and machining industries too much.

“I know several shops that have been extremely unhappy to hear about these shutdowns in this program,” Johnson said. “They rely on them, so it’s going to be interesting to see what these next few years are like.”  

In a statement to the Indy on the behalf of Vice President of Instruction Sachi Horback, Chief of Communications Officer Kelly Love issued the following insight into the reasoning behind the program shut down:

“It’s always a hard decision cutting programs from the budget. We evaluated all our programs looking at enrollment, job market opportunities, program costs and future viability,” Horback wrote. “The machining program has been a mainstay at Clark for 30 years and we are grateful to our faculty and staff for their dedication to students and our community.  Our current students will be able to complete their degree or certificate. Moving forward, we will ensure there are components of machining and the related necessary skill sets in our future advanced manufacturing program.”

Students who are currently in the program will get to finish both their AA and certificate. The college will also send out letters with alternative options to students who previously took classes in the program.  

The program completion rate was also low because a lot of students would take a few classes before being hired out into the workforce, Horback wrote.

“In talking to employers, we’ve learned they don’t need graduates with certificates or degrees. They need workers who have had a few classes to develop competencies needed for the job,” Horback wrote.    

In addition, through speaking with industries the college found that the program is too narrowly focused to be a successful degree program, Horback wrote. Instead, the college plans to revamp the program to better suit the needs of the market.

Johnson has seen the the machining program grow since he attended Clark as Running Start student. After he graduated from high school Johnson came back to participate in the welding program and the machining program. Back then the classes were offered together, he said.

“You could take both programs at the same time and it worked perfectly,” he said.

Johnson will graduate in June with two associate’s degrees.

“This has been a great way to get through this stuff and learn so much in so little time,” he said.

Johnson said he feels lucky that he will be ready to work a full time job with a good wage once he graduates.

“I’ll be working for potentially a $30 an hour job because this program has been available,” Johnson said.

Hirt agreed with Johnson’s sentiment.

“You hear a lot of harping on family wage jobs and things like that,” Hirt said. “This is one of those places where you can get that training.”

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