Fewer CBC classes on first day

PASCO — Classes are fewer and more crowded, but Columbia Basin College opened for business Monday.

Budget cuts are causing inconveniences for some students, but Kristine Tappin says any waiting she has had to do to get into classes is worth it.

A 36-year-old single mother of four, she said even if it takes her six years to get her nursing degree, "I'll have my education and no one will take that away from me, and I did it on my own."

As of Friday, the number of students who had signed up to attend CBC this quarter was 6,896 -- down 135 from the same time last year, said CBC spokesman Frank Murray.

But figures for full-time equivalent students -- a measure of how many students are taking 15 credits or more -- rose slightly to 4,922, or 21 more than at this time last year.

"What it's saying is you have more students taking a full load," Murray said.

CBC President Rich Cummins points out that figures for the 2009-10 school year show enrollment has soared to more than 6,000 full-time equivalent students. That's about 1,100 more full-time equivalent students than the previous school year.

But over the same two-year period, the poor economy has forced the state to slash college funding -- and more cuts are coming.

In the 2009-10 school year, CBC's budget took a $3.4 million hit. This year, the state took another $1.6 million bite from CBC's budget.

And Cummins said last week that Gov. Chris Gregoire told the college to brace for losing up to another $1.26 million.

In response, the college dropped three programs. And it eliminated 500 slots it once had for students learning basic skills, such as English as a second language.

In two years, the college has eliminated about 60 staff positions. This year, it plans to stop offering about 100 classes.

Although the most recently announced cuts may not be decided for certain until February, Cummins said a committee that has been working on the budget for two years has identified about $500,000 in future cuts.

He said he couldn't elaborate on those likely cuts because "we haven't talked to the employees that will be affected."

And how the other potential $700,000 hole will be plugged is unclear, Cummins said.

"We've cut to the bone," he said. "We're down to the marrow. We don't really have anything left."

Tappin, of Richland, said she has felt some effects of the budget cuts since she started attending the school part time in 2008.

Last year, she had trouble getting into microbiology and anatomy/physiology classes that she needed to take before she could apply for the nursing program.

"All the classes were filled literally within a couple hours," she said. As those who are taking more credits get to enroll first, the classes were always full by the time she had a chance to enroll.

On the other hand, Tappin said she eventually got into both classes, but one quarter later than she had planned. She said many at CBC worked hard to help her get the classes she needed.

One counselor through a program called WorkFirst got on the computer every 15 to 20 minutes to help improve her chance of getting into what she needed, Tappin said.

Other students have not been as lucky. Tappin has a friend who had to wait several quarters to get into a science class that is a prerequisite for the nursing program. He had to put off applying for the nursing program for a year.

Tappin also has noticed larger class sizes. Her microbiology class had 40 students in it. "It was a great teacher," she added. "I don't think it compromised anything."

All and all, Tappin has nothing but praise for her experiences at CBC. "I've had lots of words of encouragement and help," she said.

"You need to be patient," Tappin suggested to those who may have to wait to get into classes. "Nothing's going to come overnight. It takes a lot of work."

Cummins echoed that sentiment. "Many times I've said, 'We're stressed internally, but we're open for business.'

"There's room here," he continued. "It may take a little longer. But (students) are going to be able to go through us and achieve their goals."