Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Meeting NWC’s challenges and planning strategically

Northwest College is lucky to call Park County home. We live in an amazing place. We are all neighbors who care about each other, the future of our children, and this great county. 

While NWC has faced substantial challenges these past few years, know that we are up to the task and are working diligently to plan strategically for the future. These are hard times for higher education, and we certainly have our work cut out for us, locally and nationally. Our recent downturn in enrollment is not unique to NWC. Many community colleges across Wyoming and the nation are experiencing enrollment declines, in part due to low unemployment. Our sister institutions are asking themselves the same difficult questions that we are, and no one is finding easy answers. 

In preparing our 2019-20 budget, NWC faced the grim task of cutting approximately $1.6 million in annual expenditures. Aside from declining enrollment, another factor contributing to the revenue shortfall was our 2018 decision to provide the first real cost-of-living increase (4%) our employees have seen in over 10 years. This decision was critical to recruiting and retaining high-quality employees and to maintain the quality of our institution. We made difficult decisions, but are confident we will emerge stronger than ever.

During these challenging financial times, let us not lose sight of the quality and affordability Northwest College offers, nor the positive impact it has on students’ lives. The last two years, our students have graduated at record rates. NWC also has one of the highest retention rates in the state. In a recent survey, 97% of our students said they would recommend NWC to friends and family. This high praise speaks well of the quality of our programs, faculty and staff.

Many of our students leave NWC with little student debt; our costs are affordable and we provide ample scholarship opportunities. NWC in-state tuition is only $99 per credit. Tuition at the University of Wyoming is 40% more. NWC students from Montana pay less in out-of-state tuition and fees at NWC than they would for in-state tuition and fees at MSU. As we add programs in the trades and applied science fields, we are also adding scholarships for adults who are interested in upgrading their job skills or earning a degree. NWC is one of the most affordable options in the country. 

As the fifth largest employer in Park County, Northwest College is a major contributor to the local economy. A recent study of the economic impact of Wyoming community colleges, by Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc., estimates total regional impact from NWC operations, employee, alumni and student spending at $88,663,000. A strong college is an economic necessity for the region.

We are committed to offering a vibrant student experience. This includes up-to-date facilities where students can thrive both inside and outside the classroom. As we nurture our students’ success, our collegiate environment is a constant focal point.

Therefore, we are moving forward with plans for a new student center. Given our budget situation, we have been asked if this is the right time to construct a new building. The answer is an emphatic YES.  Campus facilities weigh heavily in college attendance decisions for today’s student. Funding for operations (including employee salaries) cannot be spent on facilities. State money designated for construction can only be used on buildings and cannot fund salaries or operational expenses. If we choose to forego our “share” of state funds they will go to other institutions, further degrading NWC’s ability to compete and grow enrollment.

NWC is up to the challenges we face. We have always had a reputation for excellent education at an affordable price. That has not changed. The college may be smaller than it was 10 years ago, but Northwest College values our educational, social, cultural and economic role in this county. The continued support we receive from our neighbors and friends is imperative to our success. This is an incredible place to call home. Northwest College is proud to be an essential part of it!

Stefani Hicswa
Northwest College President

Dusty Spomer
NWC Board of Trustees President