Though Northwest College dropped the word “community” from its name in 1989, the word is still central to its identity. At its core, Northwest is a community college — and …
Though Northwest College dropped the word “community” from its name in 1989, the word is still central to its identity. At its core, Northwest is a community college — and it’s a vital part of Powell. When Northwest College thrives, Powell benefits.
Likewise, when the college struggles, our community also feels those negative effects.
Given this symbiotic relationship, it’s important for the community to support the college in a simple way this week that doesn’t cost anything: Sharing your input.
Northwest College is hosting community listening sessions throughout Park County, with the first tonight (Tuesday) in Meeteetse. A second meeting follows in Cody Wednesday, and the series wraps up in Powell on Thursday night.
The college is asking for input as part of its strategic visioning process, which will guide the college from 2020 through 2025.
NWC President Stefani Hicswa called community participation “extremely valuable,” saying that the feedback will help college leaders “determine how NWC can best meet the current and future needs of Park County residents.”
The community sessions come as Northwest College has undergone some painful and significant changes over the past few years.
Enrollment at the college sunk this semester to a 25-year low. Amid a continued budget crunch, Northwest College laid off eight employees and eliminated 21 other positions in June. Also on the chopping block: the college’s student health services. The lack of health services can pose challenges, especially for students who live on campus and have few healthcare options.
This year’s reductions came on the heels of deep cuts in recent years. In 2016, Northwest College eliminated its journalism, broadcasting and farrier programs. That school year, 20 positions went unfilled through attrition, early retirement, program elimination and a reduction in force.
In addition, the college saw an exodus of Trapper coaches in recent years, but we’re glad to see the coaching situation stabilizing this year.
It’s also important to recognize that not all of the news is negative: Northwest College’s graduation and retention rates are well above the state average. Of the students who were enrolled last fall, 65 percent of them returned this year — the highest rate for NWC since 2002.
In another positive step, the college is adding new programs, including a conservation law enforcement program that launched this fall. If all goes as planned, NWC will begin offering bachelor of applied science degrees as well as a paramedic program beginning in the fall of 2020.
It’s also exciting to see NWC exploring a partnership with Montana State University Billings. Students from the Big Horn Basin and Montana stand to gain from a stronger partnership between the two institutions.
Meanwhile, Northwest College also has looked at ways to improve its facilities, which would help draw more students to the Powell campus and improve their experience. NWC leaders hope to replace the ailing DeWitt Student Center with a brand-new facility, estimated to cost roughly $20 million. During the 2020 election, Park County voters may be asked to help fund a portion of the new center with an additional 1 percent sales tax.
When the idea of a new sales tax was first proposed over the summer, we heard from people on both sides — those who want to help the community college thrive however they can, and those who are wary of a new tax.
Oftentimes, comments about the college — or most community issues, for that matter — serve as flashpoints on social media as people are quick to respond to a headline. While those comments can get lost in the void of Facebook and other sites, residents can make a bigger difference by showing up to this week’s community discussions and offering constructive feedback that can actually shape real decisions.
Whether you’re a NWC alum, a parent, a student or simply a resident who cares about the well-being of the college and our community, we encourage you to share your input at a listening session this week. The college is stronger when our community works together.
Listening sessions will be held at the following locations: