In the face of declining support from the State of Wyoming, the Northwest College Board of Trustees is considering a proposal that would cut $2.6 million from its budget. It would involve the …
In the face of declining support from the State of Wyoming, the Northwest College Board of Trustees is considering a proposal that would cut $2.6 million from its budget. It would involve the elimination of 24.5 positions — with 11 employees being laid off.
“I’m saddened by the losses … These are just numbers on a sheet, but there are real people behind it,” said NWC Interim President Lisa Watson.
The NWC board delayed voting on the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget at its Monday meeting, wanting time to consider the recommendations and get input from the community. Trustees will vote on the proposal in a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 21.
If the budget reduction recommendations are approved, the college will close the Children’s Learning and Care Center on Feb. 26 and eliminate four positions at the facility.
The layoffs would also include five faculty positions — one each from ag business communications, life health science, physical science, social science and the visual performing arts and humanities. A second instructional position in the visual performing arts and humanities will also be eliminated. Another position will be eliminated in the fitness center.
Two more positions will be eliminated through retirements. These include the vice president of student services and a second position in academic affairs. Another 11.5 positions will be eliminated through attrition, which include 4.5 from instructional support.
If the cuts are made as recommended, the college will employ approximately 175 people, down from 199 in fiscal year 2021. In recent years, the college employed as many as 245 people.
If approved, the cuts will shave $1.9 million off the college’s budget, $661,083 of which will come from the eliminated positions. Some of the money saved comes from an increase in the employees’ share of retirement contributions.
The NWC finance committee and Watson have been preparing the budget recommendations for some time. Watson said layoffs were a last resort, but after all other possible cuts were considered, they were insufficient to close the budget shortfall.
According to college officials, state support for NWC is projected to fall by $2.8 million in fiscal year 2022, which runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022. That’s on top of a projected $288,487 drop in local property taxes, collected through a mill levy.
Over the past 10 months, Watson explained, Gov. Mark Gordon has responded to projected revenue shortfalls at the state — arising from declining mineral extraction taxes and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — with a total of 15% cuts to state budgets across the board.
Originally, the governor asked for 30% reductions. Watson noted there is continuing uncertainty in the projections and said it’s possible more cuts could come down the pipeline.
Non-personnel cuts shaved off $726,029 from the budget. These include operating budget reductions and the elimination of soft dollar scholarships, which provide tuition reductions for student athletes and others. The Northwest College Foundation will provide funding to continue offering some of those scholarships.
The proposed budget reductions retain all athletic and sanctioned teams. Other activities, teams and clubs will be funded through additional student fees.
NWC’s recommended budget includes a projected $243,783 increase in tuition revenue, largely due to a tuition increase approved by the Wyoming Community College Commission last year. Enrollment figures were based on current enrollment, Watson said, with a “slight haircut.” With fee increases approved by NWC leaders last year, revenues for student and course fees will also increase by $282,379.
Speaking to trustees on Monday, Watson said the closure of the day care facility was “hard to propose.” The center was opened as a means to give students, faculty and staff child care options and later was opened to the general public.
“Yet, over the last 20 years we have struggled to provide a child care center that can operate and support itself,” Watson said.
The closure, if approved, will impact some nursing programs, which utilize the center for some instructional activities, but Watson said there were other options for that instruction.
NWC Board President Mark Wurzel asked if there were adequate options elsewhere for child care for those who use the center. Watson said since it was opened, many other options have become available, as have more in-home child care facilities. The campus facility has space for up to 65 kids, but it currently has 10 to 15.
The recommended reductions do not include any program cuts, but Watson warned this will be considered in the future, depending on where the college’s finances sit. They will be looking at workforce needs and career potential in re-evaluating program offerings.
Wurzel said that with everything going on at the college, including a search for a new president, the plans to sell Trapper Village West are not the highest priority at this time.
However, Trustee Carolyn Danko said it still should be a consideration, as the demand for housing in the area is quite high, with houses selling in a matter of days. So, she said, it’s a good time to raise revenue with real estate divestiture.
Watson said the delay in voting on the budget until the special Jan. 21 meeting is important to not only give the board members time to seek input but also to digest the proposals, which will have lasting impacts.
“We still have students here, and we still have students to serve,” Watson said. “And so to try to make those decisions in a rushed manner did not feel like a wise choice.”
The board took comment from the public on Monday, and a few people got up to voice their concerns about the proposed reductions.
Jeannie Hunt, assistant professor of speech communications, said the faculty didn’t know about the cuts until Monday so she didn’t have time to prepare her comments.
Hunt pointed out that of the 24.5 positions, half of them were from academic affairs — individuals who interact with students on a daily basis.
With the exception of one position being cut through retirement, “we don’t ever seem to be ever cutting any administration,” she said.
Hunt argued the board was trapping the college in a cycle. As enrollment decreased, they increased tuition and cut scholarships. So, students go to schools with lower tuition rates and better scholarship offers, furthering the decline in enrollment and the school’s poor financial situation.
“At what point do we not have anyone here to administer?” Hunt said.
She also criticized the board’s choice of faculty cuts, arguing those choices were based on “arbitrary numbers.” She said although communication programs may have smaller enrollments, students take courses in that department to improve their public speaking and persuasive writing skills, which support their studies in larger academic programs.
Hunt said students decide where to go to school based on the programs, and further program cuts would only hurt enrollment.
Students are not deciding where to study “based on the name of the college,” Hunt said, referring to a proposal to rebrand the school as Yellowstone College. “They’re not even making it based on the buildings. They’re not making it based on the administration.”
Marybeth Gundlach, an adjunct faculty member in the education program, warned about the difficulties of recruiting faculty for the education program.
The recommended cuts include the elimination of an open position in the education program. Gundlach said offers to multiple candidates for vacant positions were declined.
“The education program has been cut to the ground three years in a row,” Gundlach said.
Mallory Riley, who described herself as a member of the community, said the board was acting with a “defeatist attitude.”
Riley acknowledged finances are a problem and didn’t make any proposals on how to raise revenues, but she said the board needed to “think outside the box” and “rally the community.”
Riley, who has a juris doctorate degree, said she had at one time proposed a legal studies program to former college President Stefani Hicswa, offering to teach it herself for free. Riley said the college never took her up on the offer.
“If that’s how Northwest College is taking the generosity of the community, it should be ashamed of itself,” she said.
The Jan. 21 meeting will be held in the Yellowstone Building, beginning at 4 p.m., with a citizen’s open forum beginning at 5 p.m. The meeting will also be available on Zoom. Anyone wishing to comment on the recommendations can submit feedback on line at www.nwc.edu/feedback.
(Editor's note: This version of the story corrects two incorrect references to the date of the NWC Board of Trustee's special meeting. It will be held on Jan. 21.)