The seven-member Wyoming Community College Commission made both decisions during its meeting on Wednesday, and both were supported by Northwest College leaders.
“Yay!” exclaimed NWC Trustee Gloria Hedderman of Powell on Friday.
Hedderman, who did not run for re-election, is passionate about keeping the 12-hour tuition cap for Wyoming community colleges. One of her last actions as a trustee was to present the board with a resolution in November asking the commission to keep the tuition cap in place instead of removing it as previously proposed.
The board passed the resolution unanimously. The NWC Faculty Organization previously voiced support for keeping the cap in place as well.
Charging tuition for only 12 credit hours and providing additional hours tuition free benefits students in two ways, Hedderman said. It makes it easier for students to explore different fields and interests while they’re in school, and it makes it more affordable for them to complete their degrees.
“I really believe that it’s part of the college experience to kind of explore a little bit, not to just get a piece of paper so you can get a job,” she said. “Students can enrich their experience with classes in music, art, physical education — all kinds of things that don’t necessarily have to do with getting a job.”
But, if students have to pay for every credit above the existing 12-hour tuition cap, that exploration likely would be difficult or impossible for many, she said.
“You’re more apt to complete if you love college, if you enjoy going and if you find things that interest you,” she said.
In addition, “Students are more accurate to complete ... if they can take a full load, and for many students, that’s 18 hours,” Hedderman said. “They’re more apt to take 18 hours if they only have to pay for 12.”
NWC President Paul Prestwich agreed.
“I think the flat rate for tuition at 12 credits or above is a very positive thing for our students,” he said Friday. “It enables students to take extra courses they want and maybe to experiment and take courses in another area of interest.”
But, if they have to pay for additional credits, students might choose not to take additional classes, participate in music groups or other things that would broaden their educational horizons, Prestwich said.
“I have seen at other colleges where the cap was removed, elective courses were reduced or eliminated because students can’t afford to take those,” he said. “As it becomes more expensive to participate in concert choir or an elective in another area, they just become more pragmatic about it, and they’re not as likely to enroll in those.”
Prestwich and Hedderman said they both supported the $4 per credit hour tuition hike, which passed the Wyoming Community College Commission with a 3-2 vote. One member was absent and Chairwoman Wendy Sweeny did not vote.
Under the plan, resident students will see tuition jump by $4 per credit hour, from $75 to $79, beginning next fall. As a result, the full-time tuition rate for state residents will jump from $1,800 per year to $1,896.
Residents of Montana, Nebraska and 13 other western states will see their annual, full-time tuition increase from $2,688 per year to $2,832. Students from other states will now pay $5,688 per year.
“Everything is going up — milk is going up, bread is going up, gas is going up,” Hedderman said. “We still offer a very affordable education experience, so that doesn’t bother me.”
Prestwich said the $4 hike was a modest increase.
“I think for a policy standpoint, it’s OK to increase modestly,” he said. “A complete tuition freeze is not appropriate, nor do I think a big increase is appropriate.”
Prestwich said the tuition increase will help Northwest and other community colleges balance their budgets somewhat, but with anticipated cuts in state funding, “we’ll still be looking at a big cut beyond that.
“I’m really pleased that (the commission) didn’t look at it as a backfill for the budget; if they had, it would have been a really big tuition increase, and I would not have supported that.”
Prestwich said discussions about where to make those cuts have not begun, beyond some areas that could be cut without affecting students.
“We may look at having fewer vehicles, things like that,” he said. “Other than that, we haven’t had those discussions. We probably won’t be able to finalize any discussions until after the Legislature is finished. There’s a chance that the amounts (of the expected cuts) we’re looking for could come out looking different after that process.”