NWC should optimize what it has instead of rebranding

Submitted by Autourina Mains
Posted 10/7/21

In a recent edition of the paper, there was an advertisement inviting the public’s input for an Oct. 13 event to discuss pros and cons of rebranding/renaming Northwest College.

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NWC should optimize what it has instead of rebranding


Dear Editor:

In a recent edition of the paper, there was an advertisement inviting the public’s input for an Oct. 13 event to discuss pros and cons of rebranding/renaming Northwest College.

I moved to Powell in 1981 and I can’t remember a time when NWC was not a part of my life. NWC has helped me, and my entire family attain our education. Not only did I attend NWC, but so did my sister, my three children and my three nieces and nephews. The college is very near and dear to my heart and I hope it will be here going strong when my grandchildren are old enough to attend college as third-generation attendees.

The discussions on rebranding and renaming NWC have been ongoing for a couple of years now. An outside firm was hired for around $60,000 to help with Institutional Transformation (renaming/rebranding) and helping the college decide its next steps. Since 2020, many town hall meetings have taken place asking the community for input regarding renaming/rebranding and now a panel of experts is going to help the college and surrounding communities hold discussions on rebranding/renaming. I am not sure if any outside entities/experts take the time to educate themselves on the culture, traditions, and history of our area and our institution.

Northwest College has a rich history, as it was founded in 1946 as an extension to the University of Wyoming. However, by 1951, UW stopped financial support of the college. Looking back at the history of NWC, without support from Powell, the little college would not have flourished.

The Powell community supported development of NWC campus by bond issue for the construction of its first building to hold classrooms and offices and construction of a multi-purpose building — and it continued to help the college grow through bonds, donor contributions and levies. Residents of Powell recognized the importance of having a college in our community, which is why the college has always enjoyed strong local support. Perhaps that is the reason for the original name of the college, “Northwest Community College,” given in 1964 upon becoming an accredited institution.

From its inception, Northwest College has existed to provide open access, build communities, and offer creative and innovative education for its residents with the best selection of educational programs at an affordable cost. NWC should be a one-stop-shop for certificate programs, degree programs and continuing education courses to develop and maintain the future workforce of our communities. However, compared to some of the other colleges in Wyoming, NWC offers very few certificate programs.

Some colleges in Wyoming are offering as many as 39 certificate programs. There are even universities such as Montana State University — Billings that offer multiple certificate programs, such as ultrasound technician certificate (a 12-month program). Some Wyoming colleges are offering eight-week courses and have fast-track degree programs. I don’t believe we need to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of great ideas out there to help increase enrollment; we just need to see which ones will fit our communities and institution.

I don’t agree with rebranding/renaming our institution to possibly increase enrollment and I have not seen any specifics regarding rebranding/renaming. For instance, I have not seen a cost analysis for this process. I imagine it would include all advertisements, building signage (indoor and out), town banners, email address, etc. Rebranding/renaming might cost millions. The argument that if we change the name to Yellowstone College, we MIGHT attract more students does not seem to be well thought out. The cost and feasibility of taking students to Yellowstone Park was discussed in the 2020 document Themes from Focus Groups: “field research, internships, relying on Yellowstone ecosystem to offer experiential opportunities that only the college can offer. Creating a Yellowstone experience for every student.”

There will be costs related to transporting students back and forth to Yellowstone, lodging, meals, and insurance. Another issue to consider would be availability of accommodations (camping and hotel) because typically one must have one-year reservations for Yellowstone Park facilities. Access to the park is limited because the park is typically closed November-May with snowmobile access only, so the period of use is rather short for students (August and September only). At a time when our institution is facing dire budget shortfalls, I am not sure we can afford to use rebranding as a leverage to increase student enrollment.

If we want to use nature and the beauty of Wyoming to attract out-of-state students, we can use Mickelson Field Station, which was donated to the college by the Mickelson family. Northwest College owns a piece of the most beautiful, majestic mountains off the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway (Wyo. 296). With a 60-minute drive from the main campus, the field camp offers students the unique experience of connecting and immersing with nature. The NWC field camp can be accessed throughout the year and can be used to offer certification programs such as search and rescue, wildlife management, forest service management as well as offer students a taste of Western living and experiencing nature in its fullest. The field station can also be used for art in the wild (which was offered years ago), photography program and geological and archeological courses.

As a resident of this community who supports the college, I am not sold on rebranding/renaming as the most effective measure to attract out-of-state students and increase enrollment. I believe we need to look at what we have and how we can most efficiently optimize its uses.