Guest Column

Is Yellowstone College a Field of Dreams?

By Morgan Tyree
Posted 4/13/21

Recently one of our Northwest College admissions personnel invited a prospective out-of-town student and their parent to visit our campus. When the day came for the visit and not long before their …

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Guest Column

Is Yellowstone College a Field of Dreams?

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Recently one of our Northwest College admissions personnel invited a prospective out-of-town student and their parent to visit our campus. When the day came for the visit and not long before their expected arrival, they called our admissions rep to inform them they were having difficulties finding the campus.

Our rep asked about their location and was told they were near Washington Park. Our rep provided new directions to the campus from Washington Park, and that was that … or at least it should have been.

Again, another call came shortly after the first. They still couldn’t find the campus based on the new instructions they received.

Our rep asked them again to describe where they were. A car dealership, a Walmart just down the road.

“You are in Wyoming, right?” our rep asked, knowing they weren’t describing anything that sounded like Powell.

“No, we’re in Mississippi!”

The prospective student and their parent were expecting to visit the campus of Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi.

Sadly, this kind of story is not rare at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. Ask any employee who answers a phone there and they will have at least one colorful story about getting a call that was intended for another college with Northwest in its name.

This is an easy problem to solve and we’ve known it for years. Like C.J. Baker and others at the Powell Tribune, I think it’s time for Northwest College to take on the moniker, “Yellowstone College.”

“Northwest College” was a good name for the Powell campus back in 1946 when it was a feeder college for the University of Wyoming. But today, when all colleges and universities count on enrollment numbers from way beyond their “service areas,” the name “Northwest” is just another ambiguous, compass-directional college name — compounding the everyday challenges when it comes to recruiting students.

Think of the recruitment of college-bound students like a eight-lap, 3200 meter race. Like any race, if you want to win (or at least do well), you want to run in the inside lane. However, with a name like Northwest College, you’re choosing to run the entire race in lane 8 … or certainly no closer than lane 7. Might as well put a 50-pound ball and chain on your ankle while you’re at it.

“Yellowstone College” undisputedly puts us squarely in the first lane. There’s nothing ambiguous about that name — not even to those beyond our country’s borders.

Name changes with America’s institutions of higher education are nothing new. It’s been going on for years. Here’s just a few examples …

1994: Eastern Montana University, established in 1927, changes its name to Montana State University – Billings. That’s 60-plus years of tradition in that name. 

2003: Garland County Community College (est. 1973) and Quapaw Technical Institute (est. 1969) combine to form National Park Community College in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

1978: St. Francis College (est. 1831) changed its name to University of New England.

Finally, in 1988: Northwest Community College changed its name to Northwest College. Yeah, that was an improvement in ambiguity. 

To my knowledge, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona is over 200 miles from the national park with the same name, and I’ve never heard of an enrollment problem there. Even in the pandemic academic year of 2020-21, Grand Canyon University’s numbers increased while most other schools across the country dropped. I wonder how many people arrive to their campus and are disappointed to know it is over a three-hour drive to the school’s namesake.

I know there are those who doubt or are flat-out against this name-change idea for these popular reasons: 1) it’ll be costly, 2) there’s plenty of “supportive” alumni who are attached to the Northwest name, 3) we’re not worthy of that name or we’d have to change the entire philosophy of the school so it blends more with that area to our west.

Here’s my responses to the above concerns:

Costly? Yes and no. We’ve changed the name before and we’re still here. Is there ever a good time to have a baby? We don’t have to turn the lights off on a Friday night as Northwest College and turn them back on the following Monday as Yellowstone College. In other words, the change can be gradual. So what if the Cabre Gym floor still says “Northwest Trappers” two years after the name change? That’s not going to stop students from attending.

Alumni? It’s possible we might lose some supportive alumni as the result of a name change. But, just think about the new and possibly more prosperous alumni boost in a few short years. Consider how the name-change will energize alumni whose relationship with the college has grown stale. I’ve a feeling we’re not going to miss a few sore alumni who couldn’t let go of “Northwest.” Anecdotally, alumni I’ve spoken to over the years don’t care if we become Yellowstone College. Most think it’s a long time coming.

We’re not worthy of being “Yellowstone College?” I would argue we’ve been worthy of it for years. Our curriculum has taken students into the park for years via photography, outdoor education, science and art classes. Tell retired outdoor education professor Scott Feyhl we’ve never been worthy of that and he’ll tell you all about the trips in and around Yellowstone he led in his 30-plus years of service. Sure, maybe not everything we are is “Yellowstone,” but we already have much in place that supports the name change. And we can certainly improve on it in the years to come with the Yellowstone name driving us.

No other school is physically closer to Yellowstone National Park than Northwest College. The name is ours to claim on that fact alone.

Finally, Northwest College is in for the fight of its life right now as enrollment numbers continue to decline — energized by a raging pandemic. The only comfort in this is that we are not alone. But, we have one ace up our sleeve that we haven’t played yet, and it’s a good one. I’d hate to see us go down without a fight, and I believe Yellowstone College is just the fight that’s needed.

One of my colleagues told me that changing the name to Yellowstone College feels a bit like that “Build it and they will come” phrase from the movie “A Field of Dreams.” Well, it’s been built for a long time — we just haven’t told anyone how to find us.  We’ve been hiding behind a ubiquitous and generic name all these years.

It’s time to retire the old and tired Northwest College. It’s time for the world to find us via our name.

 

(Morgan Tyree has taught graphic design at Northwest College since 1991. His blog is available at www.everydaydissidence.com.)

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