PORT ANGELES — The federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is lending a helping hand to higher education on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Peninsula College — based in Port Angeles with branches in Port Townsend and Forks —will be allotted $4.02 million and the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in Port Hadlock $166,635 as part of $36 billion in emergency grants allocated by the federal Department of Education, the agency announced this week.
Half will pay for student aid and half will address institutional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were pleased, absolutely,” Peninsula College President Luke Robins said Thursday.
“It’s really targeted at helping colleges recoup lost revenues and build back enrollments affected by COVID.
“It is a stopgap to help us recover, as the name implies.”
The funding will be made available to students and programs at the community college’s main Port Angeles campus and at its Forks and Port Townsend branches.
“All in all, it’s a really positive thing both for students and for the institution in terms of us being able to transition back to more, hopefully, more face-to-face instruction and something that approaches a pre-COVID normal,” Robins said.
“We are thrilled at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding,” Executive Director Betsy Davis said Thursday.
“We are thrilled that the Department of Education wants to keep investing in our students even though things are tough with COVID.”
The funding goes to schools recognized by the Department of Education as institutions of higher learning, a status the trade school, founded by local boat builders, has strived to maintain and which Davis said is reaping benefits such as the Rescue Plan grant.
Funding includes $1.5 million to Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, $106.3 million to the University of Washington and $61.5 million to Washington State University.
At least half the funds will be distributed as emergency aid to students, according to U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s office, which shared the breakdown of funding for Kilmer’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“New investments from the American Rescue Plan will not only provide students with critical relief so they can continue to earn an education, but also help ensure our higher education institutions can continue to prepare the workforce of tomorrow,” Kilmer said in a press release.
Enrollment at Peninsula College saw student headcount numbers dip from a pre-pandemic 2,377 as of the Spring 2019 quarter to 1,919 as COVID was building up steam in Spring 2020 and 1,686 as of Thursday, college Research Analyst Ethan VanZant said Thursday in an email.
The Forks’ campus headcount enrollment was 43 in Spring 2020 and 56 this spring, including 22 online students, while Port Townsend stood at 120 in Spring 2020 and dropped to 100 this spring, with two-thirds learning online.
“Port Townsend lost some enrollments (with a majority of enrollments changing to online sections,” VanZant said.
Robins said enrollment overall is off 20 percent-25 percent, generating a loss in revenue that can be covered by the $2 million piece of Rescue Plan funds.
“Enrollment had been declining for several years when it kind of went off the cliff last spring when COVID really hit full force,” he said.
Tuition revenues are off 20 percent from pre-COVID levels, Robins added.
“What this allows us to do is obviously avoid major budget cuts, particularly for the next fiscal year, while hopefully beginning to rebound for our enrollment,” he said.
“We’re still trying to calculate what our tuition losses are.
“We’re confident that the funding will help us present a balanced budget to the board at the June 8 meeting.”
The boatbuilding school was shut down for three months in late 2020, leading to a drop to about 20 students that is expected to increase to 50-70 with the incoming one-year class this fall, Davis said.
“When we cancel boatbuilding classes with 36 students at a time and lose their tuition, that’s a really big dent in our revenue, and we’ve managed super, super carefully as a result.”
Robins said two-year colleges across the country have suffered significant drops in enrollment.
“We can use the money ARP provides to add academic or mental health support for our students, we can do additional staffing, ensure safety protocols are followed,” he said, adding increasing technology access for online instruction, purchase of COVID-related health supplies to the list.
“It can be used for student debt for dropping out because of COVID,” Robins added.
Carie Edmiston, vice president of finance and administration, said in an email that the college is reimbursed for funds it distributes to students and is paid out for direct expenses.
“We will also begin drawing down once terms have ended for the lost revenue calculations,” she said.
“We do not draw federal funds prior to spending.”
Clallam County government also will receive $15.02 million in ARP funds and Jefferson County $6.3 million, Kilmer spokesperson Andrew Wright said in an email.
Wright said Washington state also has been provided $443 million for direct aid to cities with populations of fewer than 50,000 such as Port Angeles, Sequim and Forks, also known as non-entitlement communities.
“The U.S. Department of Treasury is expected to provide further guidance on distributions to non-entitlement units in the coming days,” he said.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]