The Ranger (beta)

Fremont County's Daily Newspaper

News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.

Ranger Login

College 'fared quite well' in Legislature; sizable one-time funding approved

Mar 20, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Central Wyoming College president Jo Anne McFarland generally was pleased with the outcomes of the Wyoming Legislature's recent budget session.

"Wyoming community colleges have fared quite well," she said in a memo to the CWC Board of Trustees. "We made remarkable gains in this session and had a level of support for community colleges that I have never seen before."

She credited local legislators for their advocacy in Cheyenne, particularly in the area of one-time enrollment growth funding.

Initially, McFarland said, Gov. Matt Mead had recommended no extra money for community colleges based on enrollment growth, but the Joint Appropriations Committee decided to allocate $9 million in one-time enrollment growth funding over the course of two years. The House and Senate approved an additional $5.3 million, bringing the total to $14.3 million -- the amount initially requested by community colleges in the state.

The one-time money will not be incorporated into the ongoing standard budget for community colleges, however. Jennifer Rey, CWC's executive director for human resources, said it can be difficult to plan for the future using one-time funding.

"How do you make investments?" she said during the CWC Board of Trustees meeting this month.

McFarland agreed that it will be a challenge to use one-time monies to address salary issues, for example.

"But that's a challenge we welcome with open arms, because we do have that funding coming," she said.

Course completion

The $14.3 million distribution for 2015-2016 also will be based on course completion volumes instead of enrollment growth. Rey said it will be difficult to predict how much money will come to CWC based on student performance, which is variable.

"Those are some dynamics we're trying to manage," she said.

McFarland said the JAC is likely to study the community college funding model before the next legislative session convenes. This month, she did not know the status of any JAC studies.

She added that future funding also may be based on course completion instead of enrollment growth.

"The (Wyoming Community College) Commission has indicated its intent to also apply the course rate and volume to 15 percent of the variable cost, which is 40 percent of the overall regular block grant -- then in fiscal year 2016 that increases to 20 percent," McFarland explained. "So together that's just shy of $30 million that will be distributed based on student completion."

CWC has been "very intent" on focusing efforts toward student access and success since learning about the completion funding model, McFarland said, and the effort has paid off.

"Because quite frankly, in the preliminary distributions we've seen (based on student performance), we do alright," she said.

Capital construction

The JAC also helped CWC -- and several other community colleges -- with extra capital construction money.

The WCCC asked for $76.5 million in state matching funding for nine community college projects, but Mead only recommended using $29 million to pay for construction at Laramie County Community College and Eastern Wyoming College. The JAC suggested spending $46 million on six projects, including two at LCCC and one each at EWC, Sheridan College, Gillette College and CWC.

"That is absolutely wonderful," McFarland said.

The work at CWC will result in a $4.96 million student success center in the Main Hall of the Riverton campus. McFarland previously said the center would better integrate learning support spaces to make them more accessible and student-centered. The project will include remodels to the school's current administration wing, library, faculty office area and some classrooms in the Main Hall.

The 2015-2016 budget includes a 21 percent state match for the success center, but McFarland said the school can request additional money for the project in the future "without going through the entire authorization process again."

"So we're hopeful that we might be able to get it closer to the 50 percent (state match)," she said.

The legislature did not approve $11.78 in funding for a commercial learning kitchen, nursing and science labs, classrooms, and academic and student support space in Jackson, where CWC serves the Teton County community. McFarland said she was disappointed at the outcome, but CWC plans to request funding for the project again in the future.

"In a budget session in order to pass or introduce an amendment it's a pretty high bar -- it has to be a two-third vote -- so that was difficult," she said. "We'll be back."

Trustee Roger Gose said some people wonder why CWC should support services for Teton County. McFarland quickly replied that seven college districts serve all of Wyoming's 23 counties -- including the 16 counties that do not levy a local tax to pay for college operations.

"That is what it is," she said.

In the past, the legislature considered adding a required mill levy for "outreach counties" like Teton, McFarland said. The measure didn't pass, but she believes lawmakers will have to address the issue again in the future.

"The state has to come to grips with how the colleges can reasonably serve 23 counties with only seven of those counties being locally taxed," she said.

For the Jackson project currently in question, however, she said Teton County residents would have been responsible to supply local matching funding.

"I think some legislators mistakenly thought that the local match would come from Fremont County citizens," McFarland said. "That's not the case."

The board will meet in the coming months to determine their future capital construction priorities to submit to the WCCC. The commission will use the information to formulate its budget request for the next legislative session.