PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College’s debut of nine new programs next fall is among the slate of change that President Suzi Ames has spearheaded since arriving on campus last July.
What has surprised her most during the short time she’s been at Peninsula College, Ames said, was how the community’s willingness to embrace change made the task much easier than she had anticipated.
“I grew up and spent my whole career on I-5, and it is so hard to get the attention of anybody,” Ames said. “And here, in less than a year, I’ve been able to partner with more than 20 nonprofits who will provide wraparound support services to our average students and my team, and I have been able to partner with companies representing five different industries.”
“People in his community just come to the table with a willingness to say, ‘yes,’ and ‘we’ll figure it out,’” Ames said.
The nine new programs are certificate programs in natural resources, automotive technology, virtual office assistant and media technology; bachelor of applied science concentrations in human resources management, IT management, tribal management and entrepreneurship and marketing; and a bachelor of applied science degree in behavioral health.
The new behavioral health degree meets a number of demands, Ames said, by being a flexible program attractive to students who want to pursue a career in a field that has a scarcity of providers on the Peninsula.
“They will learn how to actively listen, learn techniques on how to calm someone down if they’re stressed out, how to effectively deliver advice and strategies to people who are in crisis,” Ames said.
It is a 2+2 program where students can earn an associate of arts degree in two years that leads to a job, but also have the ability to return to Peninsula College for another two years to earn their bachelor’s. Or, they could choose to study at the college for four straight years and earn the degree that way.
Ames said students in addiction studies, medical assistant and nursing associates degree programs were “prime candidates to go into this bachelor’s degree program.”
With additional study and training, a student earning a bachelor’s of applied science degree in behavioral health could become a behavioral therapist or a licensed social worker.
As soon as Peninsula College receives final approval from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, students will be able to register for courses leading to a bachelor’s of applied science degree.
Peninsula will be one of just five of the 34 State Board of Community and Technical Colleges in the state that offers a bachelor of applied science degree in behavioral health. The others are Centralia College, Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Seattle Central and Spokane Falls Community College.
Developing applied bachelor of science degrees don’t just help students and communities, it also helps community colleges by helping curb years of declining enrollment. According to the SBCTC, community and technical college enrollment across the state dropped 25.3 percent from fall 2018 to fall 2022. During that same time period, enrollment in applied bachelor’s degrees rose by 28 percent.
That matters when community and technical colleges rely more heavily on enrollment for funding from the state Legislature than do the state universities.
The dental hygienist program the college had initially hoped would get underway this fall will now most likely start in fall 2025, Ames said.
“The approval process from the dental accrediting body is extremely arduous,” Ames said. “They only meet twice a year, so meeting their timelines with all the requirements is a significant process.”
Also in the future is the possibility of a veterinary technician program.
“We are working on figuring out what it would take to start it,” Ames said. “But there’s wonderful interest from our local animal shelters in partnering with us.”
But there is still a great deal Ames said that she would like to accomplish at Peninsula College.
“I’d like us to have a deeper connection to the high schools,” Ames said. “Our high schools are really struggling post-COVID, and I’d love to find a way to partner with them to find a path to college.”
To celebrate her one-year anniversary at Peninsula College, Ames said she and her husband planned to take a four-day vacation to Victoria.
The couple has adopted two chocolate Labrador retrievers, 5-year-old Bailey and her 6-month-old puppy, Mocha, who have kept them very, very busy.
“We’ve never had a puppy before,” Ames said. “We’re lucky my husband works from home, otherwise I don’t know we would have done this.”
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at email@example.com.