Community meets candidates for EWC president


TORRINGTON – On Monday, Eastern Wyoming College hosted the last of three public forums for the final candidates for the school’s president. 

Dr. Randy Smith (Seminole, Oklahoma), Dr. James Taylor (Vernal, Utah) and Dr. Michelle Schutt (Kimberly, Idaho) each met with community members at the Torrington campus one day before doing the same at the Douglas campus the following day.

The candidates spoke about their backgrounds in higher learning administration, plans for the college and answered questions from college staff, students and community members. 

Dr. Smith was the first of the candidates to speak on Monday, March 27, as he talked about his passion for rural higher education and his experience in leadership positions. 

Since earning his doctorate degree, Smith said he has always focused on enrollment management and watching enrollment trends. 

“We want to manage the ups and downs,” Smith said. 

Along with retaining students, Smith added it is equally important to retain staff as well. Smith said he spoke to one student before the meeting who said four of his teachers quit. 

“Can you run an institution like that? You can’t and so we have a crisis on our hands and you’re not experiencing anything that a lot of other institutions aren’t,” Smith said. 

According to Smith, the school has the lowest pay in the state, but they have the money to make a “substantial” pay raise. 

“If we don’t immediately figure out a substantial pay raise for faculty and staff as our number one priority, and we’re already at the lowest in the state by far, we’re in trouble,” Smith said. 

Another focus for Smith is to market the college as a business and to promote the school’s best features by having the top five reasons to go to EWC on the front page of the website and posted around the school. Smith said the school needs to use out of the box thinking in terms of recruitment to attract students as well as add more athletic programs which he said is the “lifeblood of rural colleges.” 

Smith was asked what he thought about potential cuts to the Ag program which he said should be added to not cut. 

“We are an agriculture area we’re an agriculture state we live and die by agriculture,” Smith said. “I would want us to have the best Ag program in the state of Wyoming.”

In terms of non-traditional students, Smith said they are the bread and butter of community colleges as there are not enough high school-aged students in the region to sustain the school’s enrollment. 

Smith also answered a question about the school’s partnership with the University of Wyoming. Smith said Wyoming has the best designed system in the nation with the community colleges funneling into one state college. Smith added they need to increase participation with UW. 

Smith was also asked how many jobs he was currently looking at and replied EWC was one of three schools as he is looking for his last president job before he retires. 

On Thursday, Dr. Taylor talked about institutional leadership and his work with isolated and underserved communities. Taylor talked about how he increased enrollment at all of his previous schools including his current job as Chief Executive and Associate Vice President of Utah State University in Eastern Utah where it increased 16 out of 17 semesters. 

“Not heavy enrollment growth, about 25% over six years,” Taylor said. “For my standard that’s where I like to be, about 4-5% a year.” 

Taylor said a major part of increasing enrollment was by increasing diversity as well with more business faculty from the Navajo Nation to support native American students. 

Taylor said rural areas are becoming more popular for students and teachers to go to as opposed to urban centers. 

Taylor said the value of community colleges is the people which is very important to him. Taylor said he went for a run around the town the night before to explore the community. 

“Community for me is more than just the place, it’s the place and the history of the place. It’s the animals, the weather, the climate that’s what the community college mission is,” Taylor said. 

The job was attractive to Taylor because he said Torrington is safe a family oriented. Taylor also said he is looking for his last job and said he wants to help retain the values of the rural area which are important to the community. 

In response to a question about potential cuts to the Ag program, Taylor said he did not know the full story of why it would be cut but said agriculture needs to be kept as it is the DNA of the college. Taylor added cuts to the Ag program should only be made if it is to save the college. 

Taylor’s approach to retaining staff focused more on adding benefits for teachers to further their education and allow more opportunities for other staff to be better prepared for the future. When asked if encouraging teachers to increase their education will lead to them leaving the school, Taylor said it would be very rare and it will instead incentivize them to stay. 

“If you value them and invest in their future they will pay it back,” Taylor said. 

Investing in people’s growth is a focus for Taylor and added everything ultimately has to align to the school’s vision. 

Dr. Schutt was the final candidate to meet with the community on Monday as she spoke about her journey from a farm kid to Vice President of Community and Learner Services at the HSI designated College of Southern Idaho. Schutt talked about the framework for student success and said it is the most important focus for a community college. 

Schutt talked about the history of community colleges from the 1930s for easier access to higher education to the current system with a focus on accessibility along with completion and post-college success. 

Schutt said the framework of success consists of five parts: learning, completion, transfer, workforce and economic mobility. 

For learning, Schutt said the school needs to set expectations and measure learning for improvement including looking at enrollment. 

“We need to build strong K-12 partnerships, we need to focus on non-traditional students and ensuring ways that we can get them back in the classroom, we need to look to international students, and we need to look not only at enrollment but retention,” Schutt said. 

During her time at Penn State, Schutt said she learned it costs 10 times more to recruit a student than it did to retain them. 

Schutt said community colleges are criticized for completion rate and said increasing completion rates start with clear pathways for students at first contact and added the plans should essentially never end. 

“Many graduates may return for training throughout their lifetime,” Schutt said. 

In terms of transfers, Schutt said 80% of community college students say they plan to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only 15% achieve a bachelor’s degree after six years of college. A major reason for the disparity is many of students’ credits do not get accepted accepted when transferring.  

Schutt also talked about workforce and how it needs agile learners. Having partnerships with local business and more opportunities are things Schutt said are important for students to achieve a career after college. 

Schutt’s last point on economic mobility relies on how students’ economic mobility changes over time. 

“The most successful colleges put an economic mobility lens on all that they do,” Schutt said. 

Schutt also said the best part of community colleges is the ability to change family trees and how it has positively impacted her and her family. 

Schutt was asked if she had any concrete plans for faculty raises. Schutt said she didn’t have a specific plan, but it needs to be a top priority and should be aligned with the strategic plan. 

Schutt also answered a question about the recruitment and retention of staff and said it is an issue all over the country. Along with increasing salaries, Schutt said there are other ways to retain staff as well. 

“I think there is an opportunity to look at what the pandemic taught us about work life integration and flexible workspace,” Schutt said. 

Schutt ended her presentation saying her passion is affordable and accessible education. 

“Assisting people and elevating themselves and elevating their families is truly my life calling, Schutt said.  

© 2022-The Torrington Telegram

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