Northwest College reports a reduced enrollment, lower staff pay, a big contraction in course offerings, empty housing and an ailing student union. But as my mother used to say, “one man’s …
Northwest College reports a reduced enrollment, lower staff pay, a big contraction in course offerings, empty housing and an ailing student union. But as my mother used to say, “one man’s poison is another man’s meat,” particularly (and this is my add-on) when served with a sauce of outright wonderful assets.
The fact of the matter is that NWC has a lovely campus with a functional physical plant, a faculty brimming with excellent brains, empty housing that’s just begging for residents, and it’s situated in one of the very nicest small towns in America.
Powell, itself, figures as a huge asset for the college just as the college is critical to the health of the community. Consider some of the positives that Powell gives the college when it’s trying to attract students and staff — a working downtown, excellent medical facilities, great service organizations, a passable library with highly trained librarians, excellent infrastructure, a full range of support services (from electricians to welders), welcoming churches and church congregations, and much more.
In short, all the necessary social and economic multipliers are here to grow both college and town.
Where am I going with this? In a recent editorial, Tessa Baker asked for ideas about the college. I’m going to offer a few in the hopes that they might strike some interest and, maybe, stimulate other offerings.
First, UBRCs. What, you ask, are UBRCs? The initials stand for University-Based Retirement Communities, and it’s a movement made-to-order to fill NWC’s available living spaces and boost its decreasing enrollment figures.
Retirement living on campus
UBRCs provide an increasingly popular form of retirement living that brings seniors back to campuses and gives them a vital part in the college communities while, sometimes, also offering a continuum of care as they age.
There are currently at least 120 of these UBRCs around the country, but more schools are expected to expand into this area as seniors coming into retirement face longer lives and a desire to stay physically and mentally active. Many retirees want what on-campus living provides — opportunities for continuous learning, recreation, fitness and active social lives.
It’s a case of supply and demand. Declining college enrollment and empty dorms across the country match with a dramatic growth in our senior population.
Eureka! Two problems solved with a classic capitalistic solution.
But why would seniors be attracted to NWC and Powell as opposed to a college in a larger town? I think for the same reason that retirees are coming now. People facing retirement and downsizing are looking for a place just like ours with a community they can fit into, a climate with real seasons but without excessive snow, multiple recreation possibilities, with fine health care and welcoming churches.
What would an influx of retirees bring to the community? We’d continue to have traditional students, who are great but strapped for cash, and add people with disposable income and a wealth of experience who may contribute to the community for many, many years. The advantages to all are obvious.
It seems to me that this is a match made in heaven.
What’s in a name?
Moving right along to the debate about a name change for NWC. I think the name was a good one — when Northwest College was a Northwest Wyoming community college. But, now? Not exactly.
And names are important. We live up to our names ... or down to them, as the case might be. So, I’ll throw a suggested new name into the hopper: Washakie College.
The name honors one of the greatest of American Indian leaders, a man whose heritage still inspires young people and whose life provides a model of what one person, starting from less than nothing, can accomplish. It speaks to the native history of our area and the multicultural nature of the NWC of today. More, there is no other Washakie University. Even more, it has a lovely sound ... rather rolls off the tongue. Washakie College.
Town and gown
Here’s something else based on another trend — the desire of young professionals to move out of the cities and into small towns. We have a lot to offer young families, from our safe streets to our hometown atmosphere and all the other things I enumerated above. Such people are also seeking one other huge Powell asset: a really good K-12 school system.
What we lack are jobs! Not just to attract people, but for those already here.
This brings us back to NWC and an intersection of the need for jobs with two additional trends. One is the availability of grant and federal money for small town revitalization experiments and studies. The other is a movement toward building what some call “mini thought centers” away from the major universities. While most of the latter have been located in mid-sized schools, there’s no reason why NWC couldn’t participate on a really mini scale if it were to combine the two trends and develop a partnership with the town on downtown revitalization studies and experiments. Voila! A thought center/revitalization program/partnership/jobs.
Actual downtown development would multiply the effect and ... there you go. Synergy between town and gown will bring in more money and create more jobs. Growth through partnerships. And the trigger would be to devise a program to attract grant money.
And, speaking of thought centers, we already have one. NWC’s faculty represents a high concentration of excellent brains. More are available elsewhere in town. What I’d love to see is a series of town/gown brainstorming sessions. Wouldn’t it be great to put all our fine minds to work not just coming up with ideas but figuring out how to implement them?
Consider the above less a question and more of a challenge. Hey! Powell Tribune. Why not host it? Better, yet. Form a partnership with NWC and PEP and all three of you host it.