Gillette College came one step closer to self-determination Friday afternoon.
In a unanimous decision, the Wyoming Community College Commission voted 7-to-0 in approval of Campbell County forming its own community college district.
“I think it says that education is the priority to the state of Wyoming ... it’s time now to cut the strings, if you will, and go down that lane of your own destiny,” said Chairman Jackie Freeze after the vote was decided.
The WCCC received the Gillette College application and began its reviewal process Sept. 1. In the time since, it considered the need of a new district, its financial feasibility and its educational soundness.
For many in Campbell County, the main appeal was for autonomy. They wanted to be able to make decisions for the community's own college
“What we’re talking about here is a community, a county, that has been working hard to help fund all education in this state for many, many years and all their asking for is the ability to have a local voice in what’s presented at their own college,” said WCCC Commissioner Gregg Blikre.
There are still hurdles for to be cleared in order to form its own district and many uncertainties about the economic impact for the rest of the state and the other community college districts.
A third party survey found that, if the district is created according to current statute, that the other districts would see an increase in state appropriated funding because of the influx of Campbell County’s tax mills.
With the commission’s approval, the next step of the process is in the state Legislature’s hands.
If the application is to clear the state Legislature as well, it would then go on to a public vote in Campbell County before becoming officially approved.
“Campbell County will likely be able to financially support an independent community college district for many years to come with no end in sight,” state Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, said at the meeting Friday.
“Even with the doomsday forecasts about the future of coal and oil, the assessed valuation of Campbell County would have to drop by 80% before the community would be unable to fund Gillette College.”
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education shared the findings of its survey it conducted to evaluate Campbell County's proposal for a new district.
A question that lingered throughout the application process was how adding a new community college district would affect the other seven districts financially. The survey found that adding a new district in Campbell County would lead to more state appropriated funding for the other districts.
“Because of that high level of local revenue, Gillette College Community College District would receive very little, if any, state support under the current funding model and that existing state support that goes to students at Gillette College currently would essentially be spread to the other districts,” said Patrick Lane, vice president of policy analysis and research.
With the economic downturn of late and further state budget cuts looming, there is plenty of uncertainty ahead.
Now it is up to the state Legislature to determine Gillette College's fate going forward.
“In an ideal world, we wouldn’t look at community college funding at the same time that we’re looking at bringing on a new district so that does complicate all of those considerations overall," Freeze said.