Students at Columbia Basin College in Pasco head back to their classrooms Monday -- and they're walking onto a campus that in several ways has changed during the past few months.
State budget cuts earlier this summer prompted CBC to cut some of its offerings effective this school year. Since then, the state board governing two-year colleges has declared a financial emergency and state government officials have put CBC on notice to trim its current budget by as much as 10 percent.
This may mean cutting another entire program, after already taking away some during the summer.
At the same time, positive developments are under way, among them a new career development program geared toward current and future professionals at Hanford, paid for by a federal grant.
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CBC almost has 6,600 students enrolled for the coming school year, said spokesman Frank Murray. More than 2,000 new students receive financial aid this year. The college's foundation awarded 323 scholarships totaling $417,000, Murray said.
The enrollment is about the same as last year, which is no accident, said CBC President Rich Cummins.
The college is under orders by the state to provide an education to the equivalent of 5,000 full-time students per year. Factoring in students who aren't taking a full load of courses, the current enrollment just fulfills that requirement.
CBC had to make sure it wouldn't enroll too many students because its courses already are filled to the brim, Cummins said. The state requires the college to train as many students as it did three years ago, even though the state has decreased the money it sends to the Pasco campus on five occasions in that time, forcing CBC to cut almost 100 positions.
After the last round of cuts earlier this summer, CBC took away two programs entirely -- one that prepared first-time parents and another that trained secretaries and office managers. The college also eliminated the Basic Skills program, which included high-school level courses in math and reading, although some of the courses still will be offered in other departments.
A dental hygiene program significantly was reduced in size. And other programs will have fewer part-time instructors this year. "Permanent faculty are teaching larger classes in more core courses (this year)," Cummins said.
Because staff already is reduced to a bare minimum, the financial emergency declared by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges this month is practically meaningless for CBC. The declaration eases the process for colleges to lay off tenured instructors.
State officials about two weeks ago asked Cummins to prepare for additional budget reductions of 5 percent to 10 percent, he said. The state board told him that the higher number was more likely to be enacted, he said.
During an all-campus staff meeting Wednesday, Cummins announced that he would once again convene a budget reduction committee, after doing so this spring for the last looming state cuts.
The committee will meet in about two weeks, Cummins said. It will recommend to Cummins how best to slash another 10 percent in expenses. But there are only so many options.
"We're going to have to look at (whole) programs again," Cummins said. Most likely to end up on the chopping block are programs that cost a lot but bring in little tuition, he said. That could include programs that mostly benefit low-income students seeking a basic education.
"We're going through the worst trouble this college has been in," Cummins said.
There is some good news amid the gloom, though.
A new group of students is enrolled in the solar technology program, Cummins said. The program's first class earned certificates earlier this year.
And CBC, with the help of Gary Petersen from the Tri-City Development Council, earlier this summer secured a grant from the Department of Energy to start a project management program.
The new program likely will start this winter, said Curt Freed, CBC's vice president for instruction. It will offer several levels of training, including certificates requiring only 20 credits, and one-year and two-year programs, Freed said. A bachelor's program also is in the works, but likely will take a couple of years to get off the ground.
The new program is geared toward the changing job market at Hanford, Freed said. And although the courses for the program aren't available yet, CBC will take names and start building a list of interested students, Freed said.
Project management skills can enhance the rsum of engineers or computer programmers, for example, said Deborah Meadows, CBC dean for business. But a degree from the program -- especially the planned bachelor degree -- also can lead to a career for those without previous experience in related fields, she said.
Because the program is paid for by the DOE and at least partially targets Hanford workers, classes may be taught on the site, Meadows said.
The college is negotiating with an instructor to lead the program.
The program will be the only one of its kind in the region, Meadows said.