SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education has called for two bills that could change the state’s community college funding model, with additional discussions on the horizon.
The state currently has eight community college districts, including the Northern Wyoming Community College District serving Sheridan and Johnson counties.
The districts were designed so that 60% of operational revenue would come from the state, 20% from local revenue – specifically a levy from four mills – and 20% from tuition and student fees, said Sandy Caldwell, Wyoming Community Executive Director. College committee. As of fiscal year 2022, state funding made up 55% of district budgets, while student tuition and fees made up 26%, and local revenue made up 18%.
The changes proposed in the bills are minor fixes to existing problems in the funding system, Caldwell said. One change concerns the financing of online courses.
Different types of courses are weighted differently in the funding model based on the cost of teaching, said Michael Swank, chief financial officer of the Community Colleges Commission. This means that a class weighted higher in the model – such as a lab course, which is weighted at 1.25 – would have higher costs, and therefore would receive more state funding, than a course class. masterfuls, which is weighted at 1.0 in the system.
“The (weighted system, known as) levels of education illustrate the differences in spending by credit and by grade,” Swank said. “But at the moment, there is concern that they do not necessarily reflect the true cost of these courses.
In particular, online courses are weighted at 0.8, which might not fully reflect the costs of offering such a course, Swank said.
“On the surface, it might seem like a cheaper class,” Swank said. “However, teachers not only have to prepare for this course, but they also send lab equipment for this course, and the technology to keep this course online can be expensive. So treating it as less than a traditional class, when it’s just a traditional class in a different environment, raised our concerns.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, co-chair of the education committee, agreed.
“That 0.8 figure for the internet just doesn’t match the reality we’ve seen,” Scott said.
Scott proposed a bill removing the 0.8 weight for online courses and weighting online courses at the same rate as similar in-person courses, which would result in additional funding for such courses.
The other draft bill would deal with college capital construction projects. Currently, all community college projects costing more than $100,000 must be approved by the commission before they can proceed. This low threshold, first approved in 2008, often slows down major construction projects by forcing them to go to the commission for approval, Caldwell said.
“The commission has expressed concern that this creates a bit of a bottleneck,” Caldwell said. “You can’t even put a vestibule on a building for less than $100,000 anymore. It seemed like a binding number.
The bill would increase the threshold for review by the commission to $500,000, Scott said.
Although they were the only two bills to emerge from a three-and-a-half-hour conversation about community college funding at the June 1 education committee meeting in Casper, lawmakers and officials community colleges agreed that the discussion needed to continue. In particular, Caldwell expressed concern that the current funding model does not take inflation into account.
“(The current model) assumes that the value of a dollar never changes,” Caldwell said. “There is no adjustment of external costs. We don’t recognize that water, sewer, insurance and those things are increasing in cost. This is by no means intended. »
Scott noted that the state is accounting for inflation in other areas of the budget, including K-12 education, by implementing external cost adjustments, which adjust funding based on whether the inflation is high or low. He said it made sense to consider doing something similar for community college budgets and for the University of Wyoming.
“We have this mechanism in the K-12 system,” Scott said. “We have it across government functions in the state… But we lack it in both community colleges and, I guess, university. This is a budgetary problem that we must tackle.
Scott said discussions of inflation and other funding issues facing community colleges will continue throughout the interim session.
The Northern Wyoming Community College District’s overall budget for fiscal year 2021-22 was approximately $34.6 million, which is still being allocated and used until the trustees pass the budget for fiscal year 2022. -23 in June, according to previous reports from Sheridan College.
With the district’s recent split from Gillette College and the lingering effects of pandemic shifts in college attendance, the district faces big budgeting challenges this year, like overcoming a $400,000 lost tuition shortfall. and fresh last year.