Guest Column

Rethinking College: Institutions of higher learning at a crossroad

By Carolyn Danko
Posted 1/19/21

College enrollment numbers, whether a two-year community college or a four-year institution, are significantly down across the United States. NWC is no exception.

Competition for students has …

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Guest Column

Rethinking College: Institutions of higher learning at a crossroad

Posted

College enrollment numbers, whether a two-year community college or a four-year institution, are significantly down across the United States. NWC is no exception.

Competition for students has become fierce. During the past 10 years, enrollment in the United States has dropped by 2.5 million students for several reasons. These numbers affect how much colleges receive from tuition but also state funding formulas based on the numbers of FTE (full time equivalent students). The financial crisis in Wyoming is forcing our colleges to drastically reduce their budgets.

There are several reasons why enrollment is down across the United States.

First, the number of persons in the college-aged group has decreased as family size has decreased. There simply aren’t enough students to “go around.” Population projections for the next several years indicate that this trend is expected to continue.

Next, there are the continuing concerns of the escalating costs of a college education in this country and the realization that a college degree is not necessary for some well-paying jobs. As we all know, the community colleges offer a comparable education at a far more reasonable price.

Then, along comes the influence of COVID-19. Over 560,000 American students decided not to return to college last fall. Spring semester will also be affected. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there was an unprecedented drop of 13% in freshman attendance. Also, the need to take our college classes directly online has affected many students, some who don’t have access to digital technology and as a result they have either dropped out or not enrolled. Delivery of college classes in the future will be completely changed as a result of digital enrollment.

Dual/concurrent enrollment has also had an enormous affect on numbers of students enrolling in college. High School students can take college classes either at their high schools or directly on campus at no cost to them. Many of the high schools seniors graduate with enough college credits to enroll as a sophomores—again lowering our freshman count. Some of these ambitious students receive their high school diplomas and an Associate of Arts degree and go straight to a four year institution to finish their degrees.

Complicating all of the above, the college is faced with huge cuts. Because of the financial crisis in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon’s mandate to reduce all state funding resulted first in an earlier cut of 10% — and now we are facing another 5% cut with possibly more to come. Local mill levies also decrease our funding.

With these cuts, the NWC Board of Trustees will have to reduce the budget by $2.6 million and will require the elimination of over 12% of our workforce. We do so with heavy hearts and know the loss of services and the lasting impact these decisions will have on the college, the community and our local economy.

Because of that impact, we are seeking public input on the budget reduction recommendations that were presented at the Jan. 11 board meeting. We must make these decisions while seeing the critical need to transform the college’s business model to reposition ourselves successfully for the future.

For more information please visit nwc.edu/feedback. You can provide ideas or thoughts regarding the proposal via our website or email. A special meeting of the NWC Board of Trustees will be held on Thursday, Jan. 21 to make final decision on the proposed reductions. Attendance at the meeting can be in-person (attendance numbers are limited to current pandemic orders, masks are required everywhere, all the time) or via ZOOM.

Take opportunities to visit with the people of NWC at all levels, bring your questions and concerns. Please know that the people of Northwest College — not just the board members and administrators, but the employees with “boots on the “ground” — care very much about the college’s future and we are working very hard to meet these challenges.

We need you to stand with us at NWC today and to help us build a bright future.

 

(Carolyn Danko is a member of the Northwest College Board of Trustees. She is currently serving her fourth four-year term on the board, having been re-elected in 2018.)

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