Clackamas president reports state of the college
During his virtual state-of-the-college address Jan. 29, Clackamas Community College President Tim Cook talked a lot about adjustments at the college due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he also discussed what the college might look like post-COVID, predicting an increase in enrollment.
Presently and perhaps not surprisingly, enrollment is down.
"2020 was a year like no other," Cook said. "As president of a college with 25,000 students and nearly 1,000 employees, I saw the damage COVID-19, police violence, civil unrest, wildfires and November's elections had on our community."
Cook said prior to the onset of the pandemic, many CCC students were already struggling financially, and the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated their situations. He noted also that some students who were feeling anxious about the state of the world simply were not interested in taking online classes. Furthermore, some families have young students learning remotely or have increased work hours in the service industry.
All of this led to the significant drop in enrollment. But during his presentation, Cook didn't dwell there. Rather, he quickly moved on to the many positives that came out of the last year.
Shift to online learning
Upon Gov. Kate Brown's March 1 announcement mandating online learning for the rest of the academic year, the college made a swift shift, bringing many classes online right away.
By fall term, the college offered 913 online or hybrid courses and just 152 in-person courses, compared to 173 online/hybrid courses and 1,153 in-person courses in fall 2019.
Cook said the innovation of instructors and college staff to make the shift happen was "beyond impressive" and involved Zoom trainings, recording videos for students and more.
The advising team served nearly 5,000 students since March 16, representing a 6% increase in unique students served over the prior year's same timeframe.
The Associated Student Government also stepped up, working with the college's foundation to loan out free Chromebooks and Dell laptops to students. The ASG has also been handing out free food boxes each week and continuing other programs.
Not only did classes move online, but events and activities also had to make the change. The English department moved the Compose writing conference online and quickly sold out. The annual in-service was held online, and Cook said the college may consider keeping this event virtual or hybrid as it allows access for more people to participate. Cook said other online events included the all-staff recognition awards, the retiree union connection event and department events such as art exhibits and music concerts.
But one event did not go virtual.
"We surveyed our 2020 grads and asked them if they'd prefer for graduation an online ceremony or if they wanted to wait until next year to celebrate," Cook said. "And they told us clearly, they did not want either of those things."
Instead, the college held a drive-thru graduation ceremony, where students could get out of their cars to have their names called and walk across the stage.
In 2020, the college awarded 1,207 degrees and certificates, 244 GEDs and 11 adult high school diplomas.
Scholarships, grants and relief
This academic year, the CCC Foundation awarded more than $700,000 in scholarships to students, according to Cook, with nearly 50% of applicants receiving at least one scholarship.
To make that happen, the foundation relies on donors. Cook said in 2020, donors gave more than $2.4 million.
"Despite everything 2020 threw at us, that's the foundation's best funding year in nearly two decades," Cook said.
The foundation also quickly created the COVID-19 relief fund in 2020, through which $190,000 was raised to support 450 students displaced by the pandemic.
The Oregon City Elks Lodge jumped in on the charitable giving as well, donating more than 600 pounds of nonperishable food and toiletries to the college's free food pantry. They also intend to provide a cash donation to purchase fresh foods.
Yet another generous gift came to the college from World of Speed, the automotive museum in Wilsonville that closed due to COVID-19. Still, the organization gave the college automotive equipment and $375,000 to help automotive students with their educations.
The college also saw funding come in through 17 new grants totaling more than $3.3 million. These came from the city, county, state and federal levels, Cook said.
Finally, the college's welding department received some extra funds in 2020 thanks to Metallica singer and guitarist James Hetfield, who while sheltering in place created a set of tables to raffle off. He fetched $75,000 for them, and Clackamas was one of three schools to receive a portion of the funding.
In addition to dollars, the college came away from 2020 with some new hardware — a trophy, that is. Cook pointed out that prior to the shift to remote learning in the spring, the college's wrestling team won the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship for the second year in a row.
The college also saw growth in one of its programs — the high school expanded options program — where students come directly to CCC online as opposed to taking classes through their high schools. Enrollment in that program was up 13% in the fall and is currently up by 24% for winter term compared to last year.
The college received recognition in 2020, too. In December, the Daily Journal of Commerce named the expansion of DeJardin Hall as a 2020 top project. It took third place in the secondary education category.
"This project was completed in 2019, and I'm sure if you speak with the science faculty and students, they'll say that it'll be a great day when we can get back into DeJardin," Cook said.
Finally, Cook noted that the college not only received much in 2020; it also had the chance to give. During the wildfires in September, the college initially offered its campus as a Red Cross site for evacuees, and later became a camp for firefighters. More than 250 firefighters from across the state used the campus as a place to shower, sleep and fuel up after 12-hour shifts. Staff and volunteers provided hot meals, sack lunches, coffee and more to crews.
As the college community bids 2020 farewell and vaccines begin to roll out, Cook took a look at what the college will look like post-COVID.
For one, Clackamas Volunteers in Medicine, a free clinic, will vacate its current location by 2022 and move to the Oregon City campus in Clairmont Hall. Cook said this will give students the opportunity to take advantage of free health care and will give health sciences students some practical time in the clinic.
Currently, the college is in the process of fundraising to help the clinic with remodeling.
"We've got some time, as I said, to 2022 when they need to be out," Cook said. "But we need to diligently work on making this a success so they can come in and help our students and our campus and our community."
The college is also opening a makerspace on campus thanks to Benchmade Knives founder Les De Asis. The CCC makerspace, named after De Asis, will be open to those who want training in innovation and industrial technology. Users of the space will have access to digital tools and manufacturing equipment that allows individuals to prototype their business concepts.
"The naming of the makerspace after Les is fitting because he started his business designing and making knives in his garage," Cook said, "which we know now are coveted around the world."
Additionally, the college will soon open its Wacheno Welcome Center, the final building project on campus in connection to the 2014 bond. The building will serve as "the front door" to the college, Cook said, where students can have most of their questions answered in one setting rather than moving between buildings or offices.
Cook took a breath during his address to allow students to speak. One new student, Canby graduate Mia Carroll, said she is excited to attend CCC with classes at the caliber of other colleges but for a fraction of the cost. Carroll is majoring in education.
Closing the budget gap
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the college was working to close a nearly $5 million budget gap in three years, according to Cook. He said with $640 million in state funding in the current biennium combined with some budget reductions, the college was moving in the right direction.
Now, community colleges are asking the state for $702 million next biennium in preparation for an uptick in enrollment. This will allow colleges to deliver classes and programs that meet the industry demand in COVID-safe environments.
"I want to remind everyone that community colleges are counter-cyclical during times of recession," Cook said. "… During the last recession we saw enrollment gains of 10% to 20% every year. We were offering welding classes at midnight, because that was the only time we had space for them.
"I encourage you to think of community colleges as economic first responders," he said. "Yes, enrollment is down right now, but we expect it to inflate and probably quickly as we start to recover from the pandemic."
Cook ended by saying that while 2020 was difficult, he is confident the college will recover and become stronger because of it.
"I'm proud to work with the staff and faculty at CCC, who are some of the most caring, dedicated, passionate people I've ever had the opportunity to work with," Cook said, "and I just thank you all for the work that you do every day for our community and our students.
"CCC is an amazing organization that transforms lives every day. And I'm fortunate to be leading it."
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