Community Voice: Clark State College’s commitment to our students and our community

Graduation season is upon us, and as we come to the end of an academic year like no other, it is certainly time to reflect on the challenges and opportunities presented in the past 14 months.

Clark State College has continued to excel in meeting student needs. During this year’s (virtual) commencement ceremony, we will award six bachelor’s degrees for the first time in our nearly 60-year history. Clark State will award these students the Bachelor of Applied Science in Manufacturing Technology Management, a degree that received approval from our accrediting body in spring 2019, and these diplomas will read “Clark State College.” During our ceremony, I will confer nearly 550 degrees and certificates, and it is of particular note that these graduates possess the determination, resilience and commitment to persist to realize their dreams. It is indeed a celebration of the remarkable spirit that each student embodies.

Clark State has bucked many trends in higher education for sure. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, community college enrollment is down nationally 10%. This number may seem counterintuitive given the workforce skills gap that existed before the pandemic and the enrollment trends during past economic downturns. In past recessions, such as the 2008-09 Great Recession, community colleges experienced double-digit enrollment growth. This growth largely slowed down during the mid 2010s for most colleges, but Clark State has continued to experience increasing enrollment since 2013, though a softening of overall enrollment during the 2020-2021 academic year.

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Clark State’s enrollment was down 3% this past fall, but our retention of current students increased. In fact, for students who were enrolled during spring 2020, summer 2020, and fall 2021, and received direct student support in the form of COVID relief funds, their retention and success rates were 81%. Clark State is projecting growth in fall 2021 enrollment, and, as part of the Board of Trustees’ commitment to an affordable education, Clark State will forgo a tuition increase again during the 2021-2022 academic year. Clark State’s tuition remains among the lowest in Ohio.

As Clark State president, I am particularly proud of the work our health care faculty and students have done in our communities to assist in COVID care and vaccine distribution, whether it is through clinical opportunities at hospitals and nursing homes or assisting the County Health Departments or community health centers like Rocking Horse. Clark State nursing faculty and students (and alumni) have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to serve, and we were excited about our partnership last week with the Clark County Health Department to provide the Pfizer vaccine from 10 a.m.-1p.m. on Thursday at the TLC building on Leffel Lane to students, employees, and community members.

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Finally, Clark State’s Strategic Plan and our work championing equity with an organization called “Achieving the Dream” have guided our collective work – and impact – during the pandemic. We have absolutely doubled down on our commitment to students and the community, and these commitments include:

· Ensuring that Clark State remains affordable for students and families

· Providing a learning and working environment focused on safety, security, and wellness

· Prioritizing Clark State’s important work on diversity, equity, and inclusion

· Aligning academic and workforce programs with regional needs

· Leveraging technologies to facilitate stronger student learning outcomes and workforce preparedness

· Championing student success through the provision of wraparound student support services

· Deploying federal and state COVID-relief monies to assist students in removing barriers to their success

· Transforming our communities through creative partnerships and programming, like Project Jericho and the Scholars’ Programs

With these commitments in mind, please know that Clark State College is the “community’s college” and seeks to meet students where they are. And while we end one academic year with commencement, we look forward to beginning another with our first summer term June 1 with increased numbers of face-to-face classes and in-person services.

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