Walla Walla Community College puts needs of students first

College officials are working to find opportunities for students displaced by budget cuts.

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Budget cuts are never easy and rarely kind.

Yet, Walla Walla Community College officials have come up with a plan that puts students first. No, it won't be easy on students or staff, but the changes are structured to give students an opportunity to complete their education at WWCC or another school. That's about as gentle a way of implementing cuts as there can be.

This can be done because WWCC is working in partnership with Columbia Basin College in Pasco, which is about 50 miles away.

Walla Walla Community College lost about $1.1 million in state funding. As a result, it is cutting programs next year.

WWCC President Steve VanAusdle said the college plans to eliminate its precision machining technology program at its Walla Walla campus and the carpentry program at its Clarkston campus. Unfortunately, two jobs will be lost.

The end to the two-year machining program means that about seven students finishing their first year will be impacted.

But those students will have the opportunity to finish their training at CBC, which has openings in its program.

And, VanAusdle said, the partnership with CBC works both ways. At the same time Walla Walla is losing precision machining, CBC is cutting its auto-body program. WWCC hopes to expand its auto-body program to have rooms for the students from Pasco.

If the students can't make the switch to the Pasco school, WWCC will help those students find work or transition them into another program.

The cuts to these two programs account for about 30 percent of the cuts that have to be made. The other cuts will be made by a number of smaller reductions such as continued conservation efforts at the college, better use of energy, business revisions and paying off a debt service account.

A tuition increase of 7 percent will garner $400,000.

These cuts can't continue without undercutting WWCC's effort to provide a first-class education. And the rise in tuition can't continue year after year without making higher education unaffordable to working families.

But at least one positive has emerged in terms of funding for the college. WWCC will receive about $385,000 in grant money from the state to boost its worker retraining program, which the college is using to expand its wind energy training program. The grant funds are good for one year, and will cover the program's start-up costs.

Wind energy is a growing field, which is why the program qualified for the grant. In addition, those who make it through the program should be able to find well-paying jobs.

WWCC officials are trying to put students first. That doesn't make these budget cuts easy, but easier -- and kinder -- than they could have been.

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