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November 03, 2011 8:38 am

EDITORIAL: New college building list a big improvement

Written by Don Amend

In September, the Wyoming Community College Commission used a new system to prioritize funding for building projects at the state’s community colleges.

Fourteen capital construction projects were proposed by the various colleges, including Northwest College’s proposal for an academic/workforce building. Northwest, the only college that has received no state funding for a building project in the last 10 years, has repeatedly requested money to build additional classroom space.

When the priorities were announced, however, the academic needs of the colleges, seemed to take a back seat to other facilities. A rodeo facility, a residence hall expansion and a student center all were near the top of the list while most classrooms and other academic facilities were near the bottom. Northwest College’s request was ranked 11th in priority among the 14 requests.

Fortunately, the commission, at the insistence of Gov. Matt Mead, directed that the system be reevaluated, and academic facilities moved up on the priority list. NWC’s proposed facility is now fourth on the list, and money for the six top priorities will be in Mead’s budget proposal when the Legislature meets early next year. Whether it stays in the budget for the next biennium will be up to the legislators.

If approved, the state money will not fund the new facility completely. During last week’s meeting, the Wyoming Community College Commission determined that each college district should provide funding equivalent to six mills on the property valuation in the college’s district toward its building project(s). Under that requirement, Northwest College would receive $10 million in state funding and would have to raise another $5 million for the $15 million project. Discussion about how that money will be raised is just beginning.

Recently, University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan revealed that among the graduates of Wyoming’s community colleges who transfer to UW, those who transfer from NWC are more likely to do well at the university and have a higher graduation rate. That achievement is a tribute to the faculty, staff and administration of the college. It demonstrates that Northwest College has been doing an outstanding job of educating those who attend, and it has been making wise use of its resources.

The proposed new facility would allow for expanded and enhanced programs that will help Northwest continue that record of achievement.

The changes made by the commission last week are good for colleges and good for the state. They assure that academic education is among the top priorities for state funding of college building projects. They also require each district to contribute to those projects a monetary amount that is challenging but fair, and, we hope, achievable.

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