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Clark Braces for Impact: Ongoing Enrollment Crisis to Cause Budget Shortfall


(Graphic by Diana Aristizábal Velásquez/The Independent)

Clark will face a deficit of up to $1 million in the 2017-2018 budget, a year after having to cut $2.2 million in from the 2016-2017 spending plan.

In an email sent to faculty and staff in late March, Knight attributed the deficit to the ongoing enrollment crisis. Knight said declining enrollment affects both the college’s state-issued funding and its tuition revenue, which accounts for 78 percent of the college operating revenue.

Knight said that although enrollment is leveling out, it’s still declining.

Clark retained 77 percent of degree-seeking students from Fall to Winter 2016-2017, compared with 79 percent in 2015-2016, according to Associate Vice President of Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl.

Planning and Effectiveness reported that there were 7,585 Full Time Enrollments this Winter, down from 7,981 in the Fall. FTEs are bundles of 15 credits which are used to measure enrollment, but excludes Running Start students.

Last May, Knight said that low enrollment was due to improvements in the local economy.

The enrollment shortfall affects both the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges budget and several state and federal grants, according to Vice President of Instruction Tim Cook.

The Worker Retraining Program, which helps people who have been laid off obtain education needed for new jobs, lost $15,000 and in 2018, the Perkins Grant will have lost $163,023 since 2015. But Cook said the worst cuts have been made to the approximately $600,000 Work First Program, which will lose 39 percent of its funding.

In preparation for budget cuts, Knight asked that every department find 1-2 percent of its budget to eliminate if necessary. Department heads presented their findings to Clark’s Executive Cabinet for feedback on April 25.

However, Cook is optimistic that the deficit won’t hit $1 million.

“Worst case scenario is we have that 2 percent cut,” Cook said. “Best case is that the [legislative] budgets work in our favor, they increase Running Start allocation… and the deficit is decreased to where we don’t have to make reductions. I think we’ll fall somewhere in the middle.”

According to Knight, there won’t be any impact on tuition or Clark’s Boschma Farms campus project, which are both set separately by the state. Still, layoffs are on the table.

While Cook said he doesn’t foresee layoffs in Instruction, he does think a large amount of the cuts will have to come from the department.

“Two years ago we did it pretty close to the percentage of the budget different areas had,” Cook said of the previous budget cuts. “Instruction is about 60-65 percent of the overall budget, Student Affairs is around 11-15, Administrative Services is 9 or 10… I have two thirds of the budget so it makes sense to get the bulk of the cuts.”

But avoiding future shortfalls will take more than cuts. Knight said he’s optimistic that enrollment will increase thanks to Clark’s future culinary institute, the Bachelor of Applied Sciences in Applied Management degree and implementation of a guided pathways model of courses.

Diehl said the culinary and BASAM projects will each only yield 15-25 annual FTEs, but could draw in more students.

“When you have really good programs, whether it be nursing or dental hygiene or culinary or BASAM, it piques people’s interests in the community,” Diehl said. “They’re more likely to look at Clark as an option.”

Diehl also echoed Knight’s sentiment on Guided Pathways, which Diehl said will be installed over the next four years.

“The Guided Pathways is one of, if not the highest priority of this college,” Diehl said. “All colleges in the nation that have implemented these have found 20 percentage points plus retention increase from Fall to Fall.”

Cook said he agrees that Pathways are critical for Clark’s future.

“It’s about raising retention, plugging the hole at the bottom,” Cook said. “I feel like a broken record, but if we had had Pathways in place a few years ago, I don’t think we would be where we are now.”

Knight said that while some decisions will likely be made after the Executive Cabinet meeting on April 25, full clarity on the extent of the deficit and resulting cuts won’t be clear until the state budget is finalized.

“For every dollar that’s spent on education there’s a return to this community and to the state of over $2,” Knight said. “We have a $507 million annual impact on the economy… They know that if they cut education they’ll have more troubles with mental health, crime, all sorts of social issues in the community.”

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