The system serves 60 percent of all public college students in the state, with 470,000 people enrolled. The supplemental state budget signed this week by Gov. Chris Gregoire includes $39 million to build a new Health Career Center for Tacoma Community College, and some equipment upgrades for some technical courses.
Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director for education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, says it's a rare bright spot after another year of belt-tightening.
"Because of the most recent round of budget cuts, the colleges have finally had to reduce instructional capacity. That is one of the downsides, I think, of us trying to serve as many people as possible with fewer dollars."
That means some students take longer to complete their degree programs because they can't get into the classes they need, she says, adding that the schools are doing everything possible to make up for the shortfalls, including offering more online courses and online textbooks.
Yoshiwara says instructors have already expanded their class sizes, and cuts have been made in support personnel and other services. And the students keep coming - although she notes they are having a harder time affording it. Tuition has increased 7 percent a year for the last few years.
"Colleges have experienced 50 percent, 60 percent annual increases in financial aid applications, because every time we raise tuition, more people require financial aid in order to be able to go to school."
The State Board says the typical community college student is a 26-year-old working parent. More than one-third are students of color, and many are the first in their families to get higher education.