PORT ANGELES — Varying degrees of vaccination protocol, all the way up to get the shot or get fired, will be in effect or imminent when Peninsula College students and staff in Port Angeles, Forks and Port Townsend return to classes Sept. 27, college President Luke Robins said.
Unvaccinated students will be encouraged to take online instruction rather than mix with vaccinated students, but they can still attend in-person classes, Robins said Tuesday at a Port Angeles Business Association meeting.
“The current fall schedule includes face-to-face, hybrid and online course offerings,” Robins said.
All students, unvaccinated or not, will be required to wear masks and observe a 3-foot social distance in classrooms and congregant settings.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 mask mandate went into Aug. 18 for all public, private and charter schools, and for most indoor public spaces including grocery stores, malls and restaurants.
He also ordered that all higher education staff must be vaccinated by Oct. 18, with exemptions only for approved medical or religious reasons.
Employees otherwise will be subject to dismissal if they do not get vaccinated.
PABA member Matthew Rainwater, 2017-2019 Clallam County Republican Party chair, asked what would happen if Peninsula College employees did not want to divulge their vaccination status by claiming in effect, “that’s my business.”
“The mandate has the strength of law,” Robins said.
“It’s a condition of employment. That’s it.”
Robins, saying he wanted to avoid delving into “the political details” of the mandate, suggested the mandate has been vetted for constitutionality.
“That decision from the governor is based on obvious counsel from the attorney general’s office,” he said.
All colleges statewide are required to have students attest to their vaccination status for the fall quarter, Robins said.
“It’s not tied in any way to the student record,” he said.
Peninsula College is preparing an online vaccination declaration form for distribution in the next couple of weeks to students, who will be starting classes in a little more than a month.
Robins said colleges have seen enrollment significantly decline since the pandemic surfaced in China in December 2019.
Full-time-equivalent enrollment at Peninsula College was 1,992 in 2018-19 compared with 1,858 in 2019-2020 and 1,589 in 2020-2021, a decline of 20 percent over three years but marked by “a big drop-off last year attributed to COVID,” Robins said in an email.
The virus has disproportionately affected Peninsula College students, whose average age is 28 and who often juggle some combination of classes, a job and child care — if not all three at once.
“Our fall ’21 enrollments are probably going to continue to be down because of the continued uncertainty around the delta variant,” Robins said.
“And right now, from what we’re seeing with the fall quarter or the fall semester at other colleges that are on the semester system, is that that’s going to be a trend across higher education and particularly community colleges.
“Our enrollment from a full-time-equivalent status, over the last 18 months, is down between 20 and 25 percent,” Robins said, which one meeting participant responded to with a “wow.”
“That’s important, not just because we’re not just concerned about the people who aren’t going to college who need to go to college, but this is PABA, we’re a business, and we have two sources of revenue, state allocation and tuition dollars.
“And our tuition revenue is down between 20 and 25 percent.
“The result of that is that, you know, we are not employing the adjunct instructors that we would normally hire to fill out a full schedule.”
The college’s goal has been to preserve employment for PC’s full-time employees, Robins said.
“As a result of that, some of our part-time folks don’t have sections to teach,” he said.
The college has 165 full-time employees, including 44 faculty, and had 250 total employees as of spring 2021.
“The ongoing financial health of our college and really all the colleges in our system is going to be dependant on how quickly and how much we rebound in terms of enrollment.”
Peninsula College has received $7.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“It was designed to maintain college operations and assist students,” Robins said.
“As a result of that, going into this budget year, we’ll be able to present a balanced budget to the board of trustees using those funds to backfill lost revenue.”
The option of emergency aid for students means “there’s never been a better time” to attend a community college, Robins said.
“So, if you’ve got friends, if you got grandkids, if you’ve got nieces and nephews who [want] to come back to college, there is financial aid available, and there’s never been a better time from a financial standpoint to think about either starting or restarting a higher education program.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].