College board reviews long-term finances, goals

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UCROSS — The Northern Wyoming Community College District Board of Trustees had a work session Friday at the Ranch at Ucross.

The board heard information about the district’s finances and examined long-term options. Topics included attainment goals, a potential program for adult returning students, hosting more events, board oversight and potential security issues. Because it was a work session, no action was taken.

NWCCD Vice President of Administrative Services/CFO Cheryl Heath went over the district’s five-year plan and priorities, which included regular salary increases for employees. With most significant construction projects finished for the foreseeable future, NWCCD President Paul Young said the district can shift its focus to pay raises, which haven’t happened in about a decade.

“We neglected our compensation for our employees in order to stretch ourselves,” Young said. “Instead of paying people more, we hired more people to do more things.”

Similarly, trustee Debra Wendtland said she was committed to increasing salaries. The possibility of hiring quality instructors and then losing them to better-paying jobs is very real, she said.

Young also mentioned “bunches of money” that will come open within the next five years, leading to significant reductions in expenditures in the future. Those funds will be freed up due to the winding down of the NWCCD early retirement plan.

Adult returning students and state attainment goals

The board discussed a potential statewide program to support adult learners, which is something the Wyoming Legislature will likely discuss during its session beginning in January.

“That is going to be the conversation of the next decade,” Young said.

Sheridan College Vice President of Student Affairs Leah Barrett talked about reaching state attainment goals of 67 percent of adults having a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025 and 80 percent by 2040. The number is currently around 48 percent.

Barrett said if the state wants to meet those numbers, most of the degrees and certificates will come from adult returners, not high school students. Barrett said the college needs to figure out the best ways to reach them, because NWCCD is currently geared toward traditional students. Potential answers included scholarships for adult returning students, funding for a comprehensive program and continuous support for those learners once they are on campus.

Conference hosting

The board also discussed hosting more conferences and events on campus in Sheridan. Young called it a slight experiment to increase the use of college facilities — mainly during summer — with activities that could potentially lead to more students, such as a leather trade show or Ernest Hemingway Conference.

Young said the college would mainly host in conjunction with other entities for events that are too big to be held in one area, rather than try to take away from established hosts.

“We are not going to compete with private enterprises,” Young said. “We just can’t.”

Despite the potential for additional hosting to increase revenue and enrollment, Young said the college must be careful to not let people use the school buildings too often for non-education activities.

“Understand why we’re being so protective,” Young said. “…We built these facilities so students could have them when they want them.”

Board oversight

The board has largely been hands-off for the past several years, delegating most responsibilities to Young, the board’s sole employee. However, board members agreed that it was a good time to reevaluate where and how much it wants to be involved, especially with a new NWCCD president coming aboard next year.

Along those lines, Young said the position of college president is becoming more about overseeing different people because more employees change jobs at a quicker rate than in years past.

“This job in the future is going to be a manager (supervising) a talent revolving door,” Young said. “…People come and go. That’s the way of the world now.”

Potential areas to increase board involvement included budgetary and finance meetings and more communication with the Sheridan College Foundation. NWCCD board chair Norleen Healy also said it would be helpful to receive information regarding five-year academic program plans.

Young also encouraged the board remain independent and have local control and not become part of a statewide system of community colleges, if that discussion were to ever occur.

“Do everything you can to protect and hang onto what you’re doing in your little part,” Young said. “There’ll always be a tendency to try to pull that in under one roof, and you would lose a lot.”

Risk management

The board talked about cyber liability and data protection and security.

Heath noted recent changes to email security, mentioning that hackers have posed as college administrators and asked for notable information.

“Cyber risk now is an employee accidentally clicking on something that infects their computer and gets into our system,” Heath said.

College employees also recently received 90 minutes of online training for cyber security and will receive similar training in spring.

“It scared … me,” Heath said. “…But I learned an amazing amount.”

Near the end of the meeting, Young summarized the general outlook for the community college district, mentioning the potential positives and negatives ahead.

“There are dozens and dozens of amazing things that we’re doing,” Young said. “I don’t want you to walk out of here discouraged, but there are some big challenges.”

The NWCCD board has an audit work session on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., followed by a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m.

By |Dec. 11, 2018|

About the Author:

Ryan Patterson joined The Sheridan Press staff as a reporter covering education, business and sports in August 2017. He's a native of Wisconsin and graduated from Marquette University with a bachelor's in journalism in May 2017. Email him at: ryan.patterson@thesheridanpress.com.

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