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NWC exceeded many goals, fell short of others

A report shows several goals set in the 2008-11 strategic plan for Northwest College were achieved — some many times over — while others still need work.

NWC President Paul Prestwich outlined the final report on the three-year strategic plan during the December meeting of the NWC Board of Trustees.

Prestwich said he was particularly pleased with record enrollment increases and a rise in the number of degrees completed.

During that time, Northwest College had a 9 percent increase in total fill-time equivalent enrollment (FTE) during the three year period. FTE, calculated by dividing by 12 the total number of credit hours taken by the number of students enrolled, was a record-breaking 2,131 in fall 2010. 

Northwest’s 28 percent increase in the actual number of students enrolled, with a record 2,450 students taking classes at the college in the 2010-11 school year, was the highest increase among all Wyoming community college districts.

Prestwich said the slump in the economy contributed to enrollment increase, but it doesn’t explain it all.

“The economy certainly helped our enrollment growth, there’s no doubt about that. But that wouldn’t have accounted for our going from last place to first” in enrollment growth among Wyoming’s community colleges. “Our economy is similar to the rest of the state.”

The report shows overall enrollment growth included increases of 20 percent in part-time students, 81 percent in minority students (not including international students), 62 percent in distance education and 56 percent in workforce training students, as well as establishing 54 FTEs in concurrent enrollment for high school students.

“Growth wasn’t in just one area or another, it was in all areas — distance, concurrent, minority and non-minority,” Prestwich said.

Other accomplishments identified in the report:

• Degree completions increased by 9 percent, 8 percentage points more than the 1 percent goal.

• 10 new certificate and degree programs started, eight more than the goal of two.

• $9.5 million in building and maintenance projects completed toward meeting master facilities plan goals.

Areas where the report shows accomplishments fell short of goals included:

• A 47 percent decrease occurred in certificate completions. The goal was for a 1 percent increase.

• A 2.3 percent decline in student retention from fall to spring, and an 8.9 percent decrease in fall-to-fall retention. Goals for a 1.5 percent increase had been set for both.

In addition, some objectives set for achievement during the three-year period are not complete yet, but work toward them is progressing.

Those include implementing a college-wide professional development plan, clarifying a shared governance system and completing a succession plan.

While the report shows there still is room for improvement, Prestwich said, overall “the results are great, and underneath the results are students. To know that you’re making a difference in more and more students’ lives is really gratifying.”

Work on a new strategic plan began last spring. A draft plan should be ready for the board’s review sometime around March, Prestwich said.

Board members last spring asked to be included in the process before the plan was finalized so they could have a chance to review the plan and make any needed changes.

Trustee Rick LaPlante said he wants to take a look both at retention and certificate completion rates, as they should be considered together.

LaPlante, who recently made a presentation in Cheyenne at a statewide forum on community colleges, said only 17 percent of college students statewide complete a two-year degree in two years. It takes four years for 32 percent of students statewide, and too many never complete, he said.

Lisa Smith, NWC institutional researcher, said 30 percent of NWC students complete two-year degrees in three years.

Steve Thulin, professor of history, said students taking longer to complete degrees isn’t always bad news.

“Some of that is a success story,” said Thulin, who noted that students with disabilities are getting better services and staying in school longer to complete their degrees.

In addition, he said, some are graduating with more than one degree, and students working toward four-year degrees with Valley City College in North Dakota often continue taking courses at Northwest while they are working toward their four-year degrees.

LaPlante noted that the average student age at Northwest College is older than the state average. He stressed the need for scholarship availability for nontraditional students.

Trustees agreed they will need additional time to review and discuss the draft strategic plan, and they will schedule one or more work meetings to do that.

Once the strategic plan is complete, work will begin to update the NWC facilities master plan.

LaPlante said the master facilities plan should be worded so that its goals support the objectives in the strategic plan.

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