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Trade programs at Seattle Central avoid the axe, for now

Trade programs at Seattle Central College slated for the chopping block got a little reprieve Thursday, but their long-term funding remains uncertain.

Administrators announced enrollment for the culinary, maritime, woodworking and textile and design programs will continue for the time being.

Seattle Central has long been a major pipeline for the restaurant and hospitality industry. So, when the college proposed shutting down its culinary program, students and former graduates mobilized. Administrators listened and the program will continue to accept new students, at least through the fall. But long-term funding for the culinary program and other trade programs remains an open question.

Seattle community colleges have been facing enrollment declines for the past few years. At a recent budget forum, Seattle Central College leaders said they’re facing a $15 million deficit. And without new funding options, they’re proposing deep cuts.

As leaders met to discuss the college’s financial troubles, students rallied outside, protesting proposed closures. On the chopping block: its woodworking program, the culinary academy, and the maritime program.

Seattle Central College Interim President Yoshiko Harden said revenue from the international student program helped keep the trade programs afloat – but the landscape started to shift during the Trump administration.

“It was much more difficult to get student visas than it had been prior to that,” Harden said. “There was apprehension to travel abroad for studies given the rhetoric that was coming out of the country.”

Just when the situation appeared to start turning around, Covid-19 came along and further exacerbated that decline, said Vice Chancellor Terrence Hsiao.

“It fell off even more precipitously, particularly among international students," Hsiao said.

Hsiao said the college is working on different strategies to boost enrollment, including new programs focused on computer science, and fire science.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet Thursday, May 12 to make a final decision.