SHERIDAN — Why should students attend Sheridan College?

The question drives most of the college administration’s long-term decisions. Some of those decisions were addressed by the Northern Wyoming Community College District’s strategic plan for 2018 to 2023.

The strategic plan addresses several improvement areas for the district as it deals with the shifting educational and economic landscape. The areas boil down to two main components: increase student enrollment and increase the percentage of those students who earn a college degree.

“Historically, we would say, ‘You know what, the middle 50 percent of high school students, they’re not going to go to college; it’s only the top 25 percent,’” NWCCD President Paul Young said. “That doesn’t work anymore.”

The University of Wyoming and state community colleges have set an attainment goal of 60 percent by 2025, meaning that 60 percent of Wyoming residents ages 25 to 64 have a meaningful college degree, and 75 percent by 2040.

So how will the state educational institutions achieve those lofty goals? Young said it starts with encouraging younger students to consider college, beginning in middle school.

“It’s about getting the idea in students’ head that, ‘Yeah, college really is for me,’” Young said. “It’s not just for people that are going to go on and be lawyers or engineers. It’s for people who want to have decent jobs in the economy.”

More jobs use some type of advanced technology, which require a college education.

“Every single industry is becoming more complex,” Young said. “Computers are involved in almost everything we do out here now … People my age and older don’t realize that it’s not the same work world as it was 30 years ago, and you just can’t do it with a high school education if you want to be globally competitive.”

The NWCCD more specifically has a goal of awarding 1,000 degrees and certificates by 2020. In 2013-14, it awarded 695. The number stood at 796 in 2016-17, so if that trend continues, the NWCCD will award around 900 degrees and certificates in 2020.

Young acknowledged the goal may not be met.

“The thing about goals, especially stretch goals, is you put them out there to try and really make yourself reach,” Young said. “It may be that we come close and we don’t quite get there.”

Other district goals include improving student and employee satisfaction. Based on a 2016 student survey, two NWCCD student satisfaction indicators are slightly below the national average: one regarding a sense of belonging and the other about enjoying the campus experience.

On the survey, students mentioned safety and security as improvement areas, including a lack of lighting in parking lots. The district is also considering adding more surveillance cameras on campus, which received more attention after racial slurs were directed at two Native American students at Sheridan College this fall.

Another potential solution comes from the College Success Program at Sheridan College, which added two full-time staff members to help students dealing with challenges outside of the classroom, like being a single parent or working a full-time job.

Students also mentioned quality food service as a satisfaction factor. Young said the options needed improvement, which the district has addressed in recent years.

NWCCD students take the survey next in spring 2018, so the administration will soon have tangible results to determine satisfaction levels.

For NWCCD employees, the campus climate regarding both change readiness and institutional structure are also below average when compared to 103 other colleges around the country. Young attributed that primarily to the district’s compensation level for employees.

Two clear ways to improve employee salaries are enrolling more students and charging those students a higher price.

“We’re making students pay more, to be honest,” Young said. “We’ve raised tuition. We’ve raised fees.”

Tuition increased about five percent this year compared to last. Because the district is unlikely to receive money from local taxes, students will have to pay more in order to help the district deal with employee compensation, Young said.

Overall, if the NWCCD wants to have more students graduate, it starts in local communities.

 “You take the people you have, and you get more of them to finish,” Young said.