NWC president strikes optimistic tone at State of the College address

Posted 1/16/20

In the first State of the College address of the decade, Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa highlighted the institution’s achievements and goals.

“I’m really excited and …

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NWC president strikes optimistic tone at State of the College address

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In the first State of the College address of the decade, Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa highlighted the institution’s achievements and goals.

“I’m really excited and optimistic about where we’re going for the future,” Hicswa said.

With the Wyoming Legislature going into session next month, Hicswa discussed the college’s efforts to seek more state funding. With a decline in revenue recently projected — a report released earlier this month suggested the state will have about $48.2 milllion less than expected for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 biennium — Hicswa said that effort will be a challenge.

Northwest College has faced a budget crunch as falling enrollment decreased tuition revenues and as decreased mill levy values reduced local funding. The situation has been exacerbated by the decline in state funding for community colleges in each of the last four legislative sessions.

The state’s community colleges, including NWC, has requested $30 million for operational funding to help replace some of that decreased state support. If appropriated, it would be shared among all seven Wyoming community colleges.

Gov. Mark Gordon did not include the request in his budget, but Hicswa said the colleges are still hoping state legislators will vote to approve it.

“We’re going to work very hard talking to the Legislature about those dollars,” she said.

 

Capital projects

The governor did include a recommendation for $10 million in funding for a new student center to replace NWC’s aging DeWitt Student Center. The governor’s recommendation would cover half the $20 million project, if the Legislature appropriates the funding. The other half would have to come from local sources.

Hicswa noted the state’s support for capital construction projects at other community colleges in past years. While not specifically naming any other community colleges, she alluded to Laramie  County Community College receiving $34 million from the state in the last 10 years for five new buildings and the Northern Wyoming Community College District — which operates Sheridan and Gillette colleges — receiving $39 million for six new buildings.

The last time Northwest College received state funding for construction was in 2012, when it was granted a $9.3 million appropriation for the Yellowstone Building. 

“In many respects, it’s our turn,” Hicswa said.

The state previously provided funding for the planning of the new student center and an academic center for the visual and performing arts. The plans for the arts center will be completed this spring, and Hicswa said they intend to pursue the construction funding for that project in the next legislative session in 2021.

She said construction for the student center was prioritized, in part, due to decisions at the state level. But part of the reasoning for prioritizing the student center is due to the condition of the current student center; it’s beyond its 50-year span.

“It’s gradually falling apart ... It’s really becoming a health and safety issue for our students and employees,” Hicswa said.

In an effort to let members of the public and legislators understand the problem, she’s been giving tours to show people the water and sewer issues, rebar issues, crumbling foundation issues, and water seepage issues. Last fall, she said water was coming into the cafeteria.

Last month, Hicswa presented the project to the Joint Appropriations Committee and felt her proposal was well received. The committee is preparing its budget recommendations this week.

As for how the college might raise the other $10 million for the student center, Hicswa mentioned that the NWC Foundation launched a campaign called Choose Vibrancy, which aims to raise private donations to support the new student center and arts center projects.

“It’s going really well,” Hicswa said of the campaign, adding, “I am just so pleased how our community is stepping up.”

While Hicswa didn’t discuss it during her address, she has previously stated the college might ask Park County voters for a 1 percent specific purpose tax to help raise the needed $10 million.

 

New programs

Hicswa also discussed the college’s new bachelor’s of applied science degree, which it hopes to begin offering in the fall semester. There are still some steps in the process before the program can begin, but Hicswa said she expects it will go “seamlessly.”

In February, NWC will submit the proposed program to the Wyoming Community College Commission for approval. Last October, the commission approved the college’s request to move forward in the process.

The college would also need to get approval from its accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission. The HLC will perform a visit of the NWC campus in April, and Hicswa said it will be a “comprehensive” assessment of the college’s capacity to offer the baccalaureate program.

“They’re coming to look at our whole college to see if we have the capacity to do this,” she said. “And if there’s any benefits to lower enrollment, we have capacity.”

She said the college has plenty of qualified instructors to teach the program’s courses.

Hicswa also discussed three new programs the college has added. This includes an associate’s of arts degree in conservation law enforcement program, which is the only one in the region.

NWC also started an advanced EMT certificate and found so much interest in that program that it’s pursuing accreditation for a paramedic program, with a wilderness medicine component.

The new programs, Hicswa stated, added 42 new students that wouldn’t have otherwise been enrolled at NWC.

“That’s expanding the pie,” she said.

The college has also been expanding its non-credit program offerings, which include surgical technician, certified personal trainer and an expanded plumbing and HVAC program. It also will soon have a commercial driver license program.

The non-credit programs added 69 students, some of which may become students in for-credit programs, Hicswa said.

She also noted that the state has set a goal of 67 percent of Wyoming’s working population (ages 25-64) possessing a high-quality post-secondary credential by 2025.

Hicswa explained those credentials are what community colleges are offering.

“It’s good news for community colleges, but it’s a pretty lofty goal,” she said.

 

Recognition

Hicswa also talked about the college’s nomination for an Aspen Award, which she said is among the most prestigious honors given to community colleges.

“Only a very select group of community colleges are even eligible to apply,” the president said.

A number of criteria are considered, including graduation rates, retention rates, and how well the institution serves high-risk populations, such as low income students.

Hicswa stated the college scores high on the criteria and has a “really good shot” at winning.

“We’re challenged by our financial situation and our enrollment, but we keep knocking it out of the park,” she said.

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