South Sound colleges brace for enrollment increases, looming budget cuts

The leaders of four South Sound community colleges said yesterday they have seen enrollment increases as a result of the current economic recession while they have also prepared to push for the Legislature to hold the line on its budget in the face of a statewide budget shortfall.

“We’re in big demand right now,” said Tacoma Community College President Pamela Transue, one of four community college presidents and one chancellor who shared the policy initiatives they plan to present when the Legislature convenes next month. They spoke yesterday during Tacoma City Council’s noon study session. “This happens when there’s an economic downturn. People look to get the additional skills they need to get back into the workforce.”

Transue and the other representatives — David Borofsky, Bates Technical College president; John Walstron, Clover Park Technical College president; Michele Johnson, Pierce College chancellor; Tana Hasart, Pierce College Puyallup president; Denise Yochum, Pierce Ft. Steilacoom president; and Transue — reported that 2,000 more students are attending their colleges this fall compared to fall 2007, and enrollment in worker retraining programs, which prepares dislocated and unemployed workers who need to change careers, is up an average 30 percent over last year.

Meanwhile, said Johnson, the colleges anticipate a 20 percent cut in its 2009-2011 state funding. She said it was likely the colleges would have reductions in slots available and “staggering” tuition increases. “We will ask the Legislature to hold the line on our budget,” said Johnson.

The college representatives have outlined policy issues related to the Running Start program, educational services for returning veterans, customized workforce training, technical college transfers, opportunity grants, and faculty increments which they plan to present to legislators. They will also press for $49 million in capital funding for two “shovel ready” projects at Clover Park Technical College and Pierce Ft. Steilacoom that could begin within 90 days and create new jobs.

Tana Hasart said she and her colleagues would send a clear message to the Legislature in 2009: “We are part of the answer to economic vitality. Don’t starve the solution.”