CBC hits 'sweet spot' with its enrollment

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldNovember 6, 2012 

Columbia Basin College has hit the "sweet spot" when it comes to its enrollment numbers, according to a report presented Monday to its board of trustees.

Enrollment for the past two years at the Pasco-based school was just above 2 percent of the number of full-time students the state pays the community college each year to educate.

That's on par with this year's enrollment of more than 5,300 full-time students, said CBC President Rich Cummins.

Cummins emphasized the importance of staying within a specific enrollment range in order to preserve state funding but still meet the region's educational needs.

Enrollment at CBC, as well as at other community and technical colleges around the state, has dropped from the highs seen at the peak of the national recession. Cummins said the drop is a result of the improving economy, as more people are finding jobs instead of needing to build on their skills in pursuit of jobs.

The state provides about $5,000 per full-time equivalent student to community colleges. Cummins said it's important for CBC to protect that money by not letting enrollment drop too far below current levels.

However, it also is critical that the school not become too big because there are a limited number of people in the region qualified to teach courses.

Cummins also said the school needs to avoid the danger of bringing on too many full-time faculty and staff because enrollment can fluctuate widely. Other community colleges in the state have faced that problem.

"Those structures are now crashing," he said. "And it was very predictable."

Also Monday:

-- Kedrich Jackson was introduced as the newest member of the board.

Jackson, who was appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, takes the seat of Renee Finke, who sat on the board since 2007 and was the latest chairwoman.

Jackson spent much of his childhood in the Tri-Cities and attended Pasco schools. He graduated from Pasco High School and left the area in 1983, attending the University of Idaho and University of California-Davis to study mechanical engineering.

He worked for Hewlett-Packard in research and development before returning to the Tri-Cities in 2009 to run his father's business, American Tax Consultants.

Jackson, who occasionally tutors sixth-graders in math at McLoughlin Middle School, said community involvement in education is important. His appointment to the board is an extension of that philosophy, he said.

-- A new planetarium being built on the Pasco campus will open to the public Dec. 5.

The school is saving money by renovating Building D into the planetarium instead of building a new structure. After the addition of the planetarium theater with its 30-foot dome, the building will be a total of 2,700 square feet and have three classrooms.

CBC officials and donors broke ground on the project in late June. It is aimed at augmenting the school's astronomy program but also as a resource for younger students around the region to get excited about science.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com

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