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Looking to the past and to the future, President Bob Knight sounded notes of both celebration and caution in his annual State of the College address, held Jan. 14 in the Gaiser Student Center.

Clark President Bob Knight and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt

Clark President Bob Knight welcomed Vancouver's new mayor Tim Leavitt, a Clark alumnus and active member of the Clark College Alumni Association.

“It’s ironic,” he said to an audience of more than 300 students, faculty, and staff members as well as state and regional leaders. “During tough economic times, companies cut back because their demand is down. The opposite is true for us. During tough economic times, our enrollment numbers have grown dramatically – at the same time that state funding has been cut.”

Knight noted that the first decade of the new millennium brought dramatic change to the college, as it has to the rest of the world. That decade brought the construction of Clark College at WSU Vancouver and the college’s newest facility at Columbia Tech Center (CTC) as well as the Penguin Union Building and the remodeling of Gaiser Hall.

During that time, the college also established an e-learning program, the Teaching and Learning Center, “smart” classrooms featuring the latest in technology, and the college’s weekend degree and two-day-a-week degree programs. 

Knight went on to list some of the changes the coming decade will bring to Clark. This year will mark the groundbreaking for a new Japanese garden on the main campus.

By 2015, a new $36 million, state-of-the-art facility for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) should open on Fort Vancouver Way across from the Penguin Union Building. A new building for early childhood education is also on the horizon, as is a new facility in northern Clark County. Knight pointed out that there’s a need for continued growth; CTC was near capacity when it opened last fall.

But Knight also acknowledged the challenges Clark has faced and will continue
to face. Knight noted that state investments in community colleges declined 11
percent in 2009 – the same year Clark saw a record-high enrollment of 16,000 “for credit” students. Knight said the Penguin Nation “rose to the moment,” a theme he returned to over the course of his speech. Faculty managed increased class sizes; staff members dealt with budget cuts; students paid increased tuition.

Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard was among the
Former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard (right) was among the dignitaries attending the 2010 State of the College Address.

In 2009 the Financial Aid office received nearly 15,000 applications for aid,
a 63 percent increase over 2008’s numbers. “These kinds of increases are seen everywhere,” Knight continued, noting that Financial Aid awarded more than $20 million in Pell grants in 2009, compared to less than $9 million the year previously. “Those people need us,” he said.

Knight noted the growth in the number of students who take part in Clark’s Student Tuition Easy Payment Plan (STEPP), which allows students to pay tuition in manageable installments. Clark students can now buy or rent textbooks at the college bookstore and the bookstore will buy books back – saving and returning dollars to students.

Knight also cited the college’s partnership with the Clark College Foundation. “At a time when state funding is declining, donor support through the Clark College Foundation has never been more important,” said Knight. He noted that the Foundation provided the funds to purchase the land for Clark College at Columbia Tech Center and the planned STEM building as well as providing ongoing support for scholarships and other college needs.

Mature Learning & Travel Studies Program Manager Tracy Reilly Kelly with former State Representative Val Ogden and her husband Dan
Mature Learning & Travel Studies Program Manager
Tracy Reilly Kelly welcomed former State Representative Val Ogden and her husband, Dan.

Knight acknowledged the support the college has received from state and local officials. He noted that both former Vancouver mayor Royce Pollard and new mayor (and Clark alumnus) Tim Leavitt attended the speech, as well as representatives for Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Brian Baird.

“When it comes to history, you could say that Clark College has a date with destiny,” Knight said. He noted that the college, which was founded during the Great Depression, celebrated its 25th anniversary by dedicating its main campus. The college’s 50th and 75th anniversaries both came during economic downturns.

“During the best of times and the worst of times, we rise to the moment to support our students and our community,” said Knight. “That is Clark College’s
proud history. We believe it is also our destiny.”

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