WCCC meeting

Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King listens to a presentation during at a public hearing for Campbell County's application to break Gillette College off to its own community college district at the Pronghorn Center on Saturday.

Over the last week, the Wyoming Community College Commission has hosted two listening sessions aimed at understanding the public’s perspective on Campbell County seeking to create its own community college district.

According to the WCCC, the need for a new community college district must be proven both locally and for the state as a whole. In addition, the applicant must show the financial ability to support the college and the educational soundness of the proposed college plan.

While Campbell County could likely financially support the school and its educational prowess has been built up for years under the Northern Wyoming Community College District, the third piece of the argument has proven lacking.

The comments delivered at the listening sessions to the commission, coming primarily from residents who live in Campbell County, focused on the benefits creating a new district would have on the residents of Campbell County. They have done little to show a statewide need for a new district.

Supporters of the plan have discussed the desire to expand the nursing program, criminal justice and others. All of those programs exist currently within the NWCCD and other community colleges.

Community colleges provide high value for a community and the state. According to a 2016 report from the WCCC, in fiscal year 2013-2014, operations and spending of the community colleges, together with the spending from students and alumni, generated $1.1 billion in added income to the Wyoming economy.

And while taxpayers provided $187.5 million of state and local funding to the colleges, the estimated present value of the colleges at the time was $239.5 million — not a bad return on investment.

It makes sense that Campbell County would want its own district. Many counties would. The economic impact is substantial. Gillette College, through the NWCCD, has already helped realize that impact for Campbell County — a point many who spoke at the listening sessions acknowledged.

As legislators and community colleges explore ways to become more efficient, though, adding a new district would prove counterproductive. Not all community colleges in Wyoming need to be all things.

Casper College and Laramie County Community College offer fire science programs not offered elsewhere. LCCC also boasts a wind technology program. Eastern Wyoming College has a veterinary tech program other community colleges don’t have. NWCCD boasts nursing, dental hygiene, agriculture and tech programs that excel.

The goal should be to help each existing college specialize in key programs needed for the growth of the state as a whole. Adding another college district to the mix distracts from that mission.

If each county in the state sought a community college to respond only to its own needs, rather than the needs of the state as a whole, all would be diminished and Wyoming would suffer.

While some in Sheridan County likely say “good riddance” to Campbell County as it seeks autonomy, the need has not been proven and does not reflect the direction Wyoming faces — less funding, fewer students and the need for greater efficiency.

Editorials are discussed and written by The Sheridan Press staff. 

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