Green River College: How we got here, and where we must go, together
Green River College has always been and remains to be a valuable part of the communities it serves. There has been speculation that the recent change in the College's name means that there has been a change in the mission of the College. The name change at Green River signifies the commitment the College has made to its students, community and business partners. This commitment is evidenced by the year-long process of consideration of the name change, which involved town-hall meetings and input from students, faculty, staff, and community members.
As a community college, Green River has an open-enrollment policy. This means that the College educates community members from every walk of life. The College offers a variety of programs from trades to health care, aviation to business, and liberal arts transfer curriculum. All of the offerings at Green River are programs that fulfill the educational needs of our communities, satisfying the demand for well educated, highly trained individuals. While the College strives to serve the greatest number of community members, from a financial standpoint, it cannot be everything to everyone.
Funding for public education remains a challenge at every level in the state of Washington, and Green River College is no exception. However, the administration has worked very hard to maintain staffing levels and grow the school while remaining responsible stewards of the public trust.
While other colleges within Washington's Community and Technical College System have closed over 560 programs since 2009, Green River College has sustained programs. Unfortunately, the College cannot continue to support programs that have high costs or low enrollments.
State funding at Green River College has steadily declined. In the 2009-2010 school year, state funding accounted for 66.6 percent of Green River College's annual budget. By this year, that percentage shrunk to 48.8 percent.
In 2011, the Legislature passed a two-year, three percent cut in compensation for state employees, including community college faculty and staff. Green River College made a decision during these difficult budget times to maintain programs and staff without layoffs. In fact, classified staff was the only employee group at Green River to take a salary cut, as mandated by the state legislature.
Maintaining staffing levels was possible, during this period, because the College experienced a sharp increase in enrollment, from under 5,500 state-funded full-time equivalent students in 2009 to more than 6,500 in 2011.
In 2013, the Legislature allocated funding to restore the three percent salary reduction. Since classified employees had taken a three percent pay reduction in salaries, they received a three percent restoration last summer. But this was not new money. Instead, the restored funds brought the budget back to the 2011 baseline.
And now Green River College faces new challenges.
With the ending of the Great Recession, community colleges across the nation, in the state of Washington, and in the Puget Sound region are all finding their enrollments dropping. As more jobs become available, enrollment drops at community colleges. As cities and businesses across the nation have experienced during difficult economic times, Green River College has an ongoing responsibility to be fiscal stewards of tax payer dollars and work within the confines of the budget.
The notice given about the possibility of eliminating programs was provided to programs with low enrollments, or those that cannot sustain themselves financially. While we all wait to see what the legislature will decide on education, the fact remains that the College must make changes in its budget—regardless of the action taken by the legislature to make up for losses in revenue.
Great strides have already been made through the reduction-in-force process. Leslie Kessler, Chair of the Green River College Instructional Council and Early Childhood Education faculty, met with Dr. Derek Brandes, Vice President of Instruction on May 1, 2015 and proposed a solution that will allow Parent-Child Education to remain open at the college and reduce the costs for the program. The College is hopeful that other faculty will follow Ms. Kessler's example of innovation and creativity to ensure that the other programs proposed for closure can remain open and viable for our community and our students.
As the College enters its 50th year of serving our communities, College leadership is mindful of sustainability for the next 50 years. Green River College will remain committed to student success and working to meet the needs of its partners. We value our dedicated faculty and staff, and want to ensure the best work environment possible today, and for the coming years.
We remain confident that a financial solution can be found that matches the College's mission with economic realities.