Community College District Wants $3M For Sheridan College If Gillette College Approved; Legislator Disappointed

This story first appeared on Cowboy State Daily

By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Officials with the Northern Wyoming Community College District are asking that Sheridan College be given $3 million per year in state funds if a new community college district is established to support Gillette College.

Walter Tribley, president of the Northern Wyoming Community College District, sent a letter to several legislators on Friday urging them to make the allocation part of a bill that would create the new Gillette Community College District.

Sheridan College and Gillette College are now part of the Northern Wyoming Community College District. Tribley, in his letter to legislators supporting the bill, Gov. Mark Gordon and community college officials, said if Gillette College wins its own district, Sheridan College will lose $3 million a year.

“Without this assurance, a bill to create a new college district would irreparably harm one of the mainstays of education in Wyoming, Sheridan College,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Cowboy State Daily.

However, Tribley’s letter, delivered just days before the bill is scheduled to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, came as a surprise to one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette.

“To me, if there’s going to be a discussion about any harm that’s been done to Sheridan College, it needs to be done after Campbell County has voted to become an independent community college district,” he said Saturday. “To throw it in now seems to me to be very premature.”

Backers of the new district have been working since the summer to clear the hurdles necessary for its creation. The Wyoming Community College Commission in November approved Campbell County’s application for the district. The district’s creation must now be approved by the Legislature and then by the voters of Campbell County.

The bill providing legislative approval, Senate File 83, is to be reviewed by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

In his letter, Tribley said he has been publicly supportive of the concept, but he felt he needs to speak up to point out the problems the new district would cause for Sheridan College, chief among them the reduction of income.

“This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division,” he wrote. “We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.”

“We are far enough along in this process, I would truly like to see the conversation arrive at a point where both I and the NWCCD Board of Trustees could support welcoming an eighth community college in Gillette to our system in a way that ensures both the new and existing colleges a solid opportunity for success,” he added.

Tribley proposed the $3 million annual allocation would be in place for five years or until the new district receives accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, whichever comes first. The Higher Learning Commission accredits community college and universities in a 19-state region.

Accreditation is required for Gillette College to become independent of Sheridan College. Wasserburger said while accreditation is normally a three- to six-year process, officials believe they can win accreditation within three years because Gillette College’s programs have already been accredited through Sheridan College.

In exchange for the funding, Tribley said, Sheridan College will distribute to Gillette College any revenue generated by enrollment there and help the new college toward success.

“By providing stability funding to Sheridan College, it would ensure a healthy partner to help shepherd Gillette College toward a successful beginning as a standalone district,” the letter said. “Without such support, it would cripple the ability of Sheridan College to continue collaborative work throughout the state.”

Tribley told the sponsors of the bill that if they did not respond to him by noon Monday, he would take that as an indication they do not support his position.

Wasserburger took exception to the deadline, especially given the fact that such funding decisions are ultimately made by the Joint Appropriations Committee.

“I was very saddened by the letter,” he said. “I felt that the letter was inappropriate. I can’t say the Legislature will give $15 million to Sheridan College. What he is asking me to do, I am powerless to do.”

Feb. 19, 2021

Dear Sen.’s Wasserburger and Driskill and Rep.’s Barlow and Harshman,

In response to the next step in the effort to separate Gillette College from the Northern Wyoming Community College District, I have made every effort to offer advice, engage in dialogue, and generally attempt to refrain from being any type of barrier or naysayer. I have publicly applauded Campbell County for supporting its college so strongly. I have and will continue to put the interests of all current and future students, whether they are in Johnson, Campbell, or Sheridan Counties, at the center of my decision-making.

At this time, SF0083, as it is currently written, is not something I can support. Nor can I remain silent any longer. It has been calculated both by our own CFO and by the Wyoming Community College Commission CFO that, should a split happen, Sheridan College stands to lose approximately $3 million in funding annually without an immediate means to recover this loss. The $3 million contributes in part to infrastructure-related costs that remain and will be downsized considerably through the transition. This negative consequence has been ignored and/or dismissed by those who so adamantly support a division. We must stop ignoring this inconvenient truth and begin moving toward a solution.

I am not one to think that if the current effort fails, this will be the end of the attempts to separate, or that our partnership will not be strained, potentially to the point of jeopardizing student access and success. We are far enough along in this process, I would truly like to see the conversation arrive at a point where both I and the NWCCD Board of Trustees could support welcoming an eighth community college in Gillette to our system in a way that ensures both the new and existing colleges a solid opportunity for success.

To get there, I would ask that you amend SF0083 to include $3 million annually in transitional funding for Sheridan College for a period of five years or until the new college district receives accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, whichever happens first. In return, Sheridan College would distribute to the new college district, through an MOU, the revenue generated by enrollment at Gillette College. This would allow the new administration the opportunity to plan realistically as they put in place a workforce and the systems needed to earn accreditation status. These are the beginnings of a contractual relationship that would exist between the two colleges during the transition period. More details will need to be worked out, but service to students must remain the top priority and all students deserve stability and certainty.

By providing stability funding to Sheridan College, it would ensure a healthy partner to help shepherd Gillette College toward a successful beginning as a standalone district. Without such support, it would cripple the ability of Sheridan College to continue collaborative work with partners throughout the State. A key example would be our role in a consortia with Central Wyoming College and Eastern Wyoming College on a mobile meat processing program. Another example includes SC playing a leadership role in the programming underlying a successful launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a key first initiative being a statewide software development program whose curriculum is largely being developed by SC faculty. Without this assurance, a bill to create a new college district would irreparably harm one of the mainstays of education in Wyoming, Sheridan College.

There is urgency in my request. We may have a special Board of Trustees meeting early this week to discuss this bill. I am happy to engage with you in the effort to make SF0083 successful and something that will work for Wyoming. I would ask for your specific feedback per my request by 12:00 p.m., Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Receiving no response will be recognized as unsupportive. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Walter A. Tribley, PhD

President, Northern Wyoming Community College District

Cc: Governor Gordon; Lachelle Brant, Governor’s Education Policy Advisor; Campbell, Johnson, and Sheridan County Legislators; NWCCD Board of Trustees; Gillette College Advisory Board; Sheridan College in Johnson County Advisory Board; Community College Presidents; Wyoming Community College Commission Executive Director Sandy Caldwell; Erin Taylor, Wyoming Assoc. of Community College Trustees Executive Director; Campbell County Commissioners; Mayor of Gillette; NWCCD Cabinet; NWCCD Attorney

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