Washington’s community and technical colleges served a record 161,000 full-time-equivalent students (FTES) last academic year, exceeding the previous year’s record-setting enrollment by nine percent and ending the year serving 15 percent above state-funded targets. As enrollments have grown, so have the deep cuts to the colleges’ base budgets.
The community and technical college system’s state funding has been reduced by $127 million over the last two years and the latest 6.3 percent across-the-board budget cut announcement brings the two-year college system’s state funding cuts to $167 million per year, which is a 21 percent cut in state support.
One-time funding for special programs such as Worker Retraining and Opportunity Grants for low-income students—and tuition increases—has helped to partially offset the cuts.
“Our community and technical colleges are already full, yet we’re facing another revenue shortfall,” Gov. Gregoire said when she announced the across-the-board cuts earlier this month. She spoke of a Clark College student desperately trying to get into the nursing program, but finding herself among a surge of applicants trying to do the same thing. “She simply can’t find the doors open and has been turned away, so she awaits the opportunity to enroll” Gregoire said. As fall quarter begins, colleges are once again reporting record enrollments.
“We are headed into another difficult budget scenario at the very time more laid-off workers and low-income adults are turning to community and technical colleges to upgrade their skills or train for a new career,” said Charlie Earl, executive director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “Colleges will continue serving as many students as possible as long as they can serve them well. Meeting all students’ needs is not possible as these cuts keep coming.”
Increased enrollments during times of economic downturn are not a new phenomenon for community and technical colleges, but the record budget cuts alongside record enrollments for two years running is unprecedented and making it very difficult for community and technical colleges to do what they’ve always done: keep the doors to affordable education open.
“People are aspiring for better lives and they know education is the key. Record enrollments and budget cuts have made it very difficult for students to get the classes they want and the financial aid they need, but they persevere” Earl said. “Our community and technical colleges have also stepped up to serve more people with less, but with unemployment rates expected to remain high, student demand isn’t going away and I am concerned these additional budget cuts will mean closing the door on many students. Colleges have eliminated many support services already and there’s a limit to how much they can do as their base budgets shrink.”
As our community and technical colleges grapple with shrinking state budgets, a national conversation is underway regarding the critical role community and technical colleges play in developing a well-educated workforce. Next Tuesday, Dr. Jill Biden will lead the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges to discuss how community colleges can help meet the job training and education needs of the nation’s evolving workforce.
Renton Technical College President Steve Hanson and SBCTC’s Charlie Earl have been invited to participate in the discussion at the White House on Tuesday.