Whatcom Community College has always had an open door policy, allowing anyone who would like to attend Whatcom to join the school. More students have joined the school this quarter than ever before, but as the head count increases, serving all the students’ needs becomes increasingly difficult.
The student population is at the highest it’s ever been since the school opened, but due to a lack of space and major budget cuts, the college is struggling to make ends meet when it comes to each student’s necessities.
Trish Onion, vice president for educational services at Whatcom, said the college has had a 19 percent increase in student enrollment since last summer alone, and a nearly 25 percent increase in the last two years. Chris Flack, associate registrar at Whatcom, pointed out that as of September 23, the head count had already reached 6,535 students.
“We are at a record enrollment,” said Flack. “We could not see a time where there were more students enrolled.”
Because the economy has taken such a dive in recent years, the school has experienced a severe reduction in budgets ($2.34 million) in the last two years. Due to these budget cuts, the school is unable to hire more staff, making it difficult to satisfy the learning needs of all students.
The biggest reason the student population has increased is because many people can no longer afford to go to a university, Trish Onion said. Students are coming to Whatcom to earn their transfer degrees so they can later go on to a university at a lower cost.
Trish Onion also pointed out that many people are coming back to school to get a higher education because they have either lost the jobs they supported themselves with before, or now have a job that doesn’t make ends meet.
“We’re seeing people who used to get jobs, who are now coming back here for training,” she said. “We want to provide the steps for students to build better lives.”
This year, classes are being filled beyond their maximum, making it so that some classrooms don’t even have enough seats for all the students. At each teacher’s discretion, the faculty is trying to welcome more students than were intended into their classrooms, but will not exceed the amount of students recommended for room safety capacity.
Not only are many classes completely filled, but students are finding it more difficult to get registered for the classes they need to graduate. This means that students may have to attend Whatcom for additional quarters in order to complete their degrees, and a higher number of students have to face part-time school schedules rather than their intended full-time schedules.
The Learning Center has seen a huge increase in students seeking help in the last year, making it difficult to assist more students with a limited amount of space and tutors.
“It’s hard to balance the demand of students with limitations of space,” said Dean Hagin, Learning Center coordinator at Whatcom. “With an open door policy, there has to be tremendous support with support services.”
Daphne Sluys, math center coordinator at Whatcom, explained that a couple years ago, there were only four or five tutors maximum in the math center at a time. As of this quarter, the math center has been moved into a larger room, and there may be as many as nine tutors in the center at a time. Fortunately, the school fully supports the Learning Center, and uses their funds to bring on more tutors if necessary.
Whatcom’s faculty are also working to find solutions to the issues that have arisen with student increase, although due to the budget cuts, the school must work with the resources already available. “It’s important to be innovative in terms of how we schedule classes,” said Flack in regards to fitting more students in the school.
Sally Sheedy, instructional and systems librarian at Whatcom, said the school is planning to add more classes at unusual times, such as early mornings, late nights, and possibly even weekends. The school is also creating a greater number of online classes and hybrid classes (partially online and partially in class) in order to open up more classroom time at the school, and reassigning faculty to teach classes that have reached their maximum at the school.
Whatcom has also made plans to add another building to the school, and the state has approved their request to add the building, although construction will be delayed until 2018 due to a lack of funds.
Overall, many members of the Whatcom staff recommend to students that they register as early as possible so they can get the classes they want, and to pick classes at more odd times (late nights, weekends, etc.) in order to increase their chances of getting into the class. Despite the crowded and chaotic nature of the school this quarter, Whatcom warmly welcomes anyone who wants to join the Whatcom wave.
“Education is a phenomenal thing,” said Flack. “It’s great for students to be coming here.”