Welfare Reform Blamed For Enrollment Drop Community Colleges Of Spokane Believe Job Requirement Forcing People To Give Up School
The Community Colleges of Spokane are blaming welfare reform’s push to put people back to work for a loss of brain power and an unexpected drop in student enrollment.
Officials with the popular college system said Washington’s new WorkFirst program helped keep as many as 236 students from getting a higher education this fall.
WorkFirst, which kicks in Nov. 1 for new recipients, forces those on welfare to work 20 to 35 hours a week or they lose their benefits.
The work may boost their incomes, but it cuts the time they have for school.
“What is the value of an education? I guess we’re all going to find out,” Donald Kolb, vice president of the colleges, said Friday. “Maybe education is being devalued for some people.”
Kolb said Spokane’s low unemployment rate also reduced fall enrollment because people with a job have less incentive for retraining.
The district, which began classes Sept. 18, enrolled 20,017 students at its three institutions: Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College and the Institute for Extended Learning. That compared with 20,253 last year, for a difference of 236 students.
State lawmakers fund the district based on the number of full-time students, defined as 15 credit hours per quarter.
The state expected the district to enroll the equivalent of 3,846 full-time students. But the colleges enrolled 3,760, or 86 students below projections.
Unless enrollment goes up, the Legislature next spring could reduce the tax dollars going to Spokane’s community colleges.
Kolb said the colleges will lure students back by adjusting classes to fit work schedules and by working with the state Department of Social and Health Services to encourage welfare recipients to stay in school.
“My advice to folks is to be as flexible as possible, sit down and talk with your school counselor and our staff,” said Carl McMinimy, deputy regional administrator for DSHS in Spokane. “We really need to be on the students’ side.”
Pam Praeger, WorkFirst coordinator for the college system, said some students on welfare have wrongly assumed they had to drop out to keep their benefits. For instance, welfare recipients in their second year of a state-approved training program can finish the academic year without losing their benefits.
About 20 percent of full-time students at Spokane Community College received welfare benefits last year, Praeger said. About 14 percent of those enrolled at the Falls and Institute for Extended Learning got benefits.