Local leadership talks future of LCCC in Albany County
The college president met with city councilors and county commissioners, seeking solutions for the satellite campus in Albany County, which suffers from plummeting enrollment and declining funds.
Laramie County Community College has had a presence in Albany County for nearly 35 years. But that could soon come to an end.
For half a decade, LCCC has lost funding as the state has cut budgets for all institutions of higher learning. Meanwhile, LCCC’s Albany County Campus has seen its student body shrink — about 35 percent since 2016.
“The enrollment trajectory for the Albany County Campus has been sharp and has been declining for the last five years,” LCCC President Joe Schaffer said. “Community college and higher ed enrollment across the nation have also been decreasing through the pandemic. But as a comparison, LCCC overall, with the Albany County Campus enrollments in there, has decreased by (only) about 13 percent.”
In the face of these struggles, LCCC’s Board of Trustees is questioning the future of the Albany County Campus. Schaffer met with the Laramie City Council and Albany County Commissioners Tuesday to discuss the satellite campus’ predicament and gather input from local leadership about what the community wants from the ACC.
Schaffer and the LCCC board have so far identified three possible solutions: downsizing to focus only on partnerships with the local high school and university, transforming the Albany County Campus into a hub for LCCC’s online offerings, or closing the campus entirely.
“Most of my effort right now is really honing in on option one to see if there’s a path there for fiscal solvency, and I think there is,” Schaffer said. “There’s really been an interest of our advisory board to grow, expand, add programs and that’s just probably not within the model of this number one option.”
LCCC’s Albany County Campus largely serves high schoolers preparing for college, college-aged students knocking out prerequisites before moving onto other institutions, and UW students who are dually enrolled or seeking a second chance at higher education following an earlier attempt at UW.
But the campus has a problem with scale, Schaffer said.
“Without a doubt, our number one conversation, it seems like, with our Albany County Campus activities, is generally the inability to hit a threshold of activity that generates enough in revenue to be able to run it,” he said. “That is the crux of, I would say, 90 percent of our conversations when it comes to the Albany County Campus.”
The councilors, the commissioners and Schaffer talked about funding and oversight possibilities, and the course offerings that would be most useful to the community.
What is a BOCES?
Councilor Brian Harrington raised the possibility of forming a Board of Cooperative Education Services, or BOCES.
Schaffer explained what that could mean.
“Quick BOCES 101: It’s when two entities basically have representation over a district, come together to form a cooperative board for a very well-defined educational purpose,” Schaffer said.
The purpose could be anything from providing individualized educational plans to offering concurrent and dual enrollment between educational entities. They are common in Wyoming.
“There is only one community college service area that does not have a BOCES and that is the LCCC service area in Albany County,” Schaffer said. “Every other county benefits from a BOCES in some capacity in some configuration.
Forming a BOCES requires the two entities to draft and sign an agreement, which must also be approved by the State Board of Education. Importantly, the BOCES could raise revenue to fund its educational goal.
“In Albany County, if the (LCCC) Board of Trustees were to join the Albany County School District Board in a cooperative BOCES, then the Albany County School District could, right now, assess a half a mill on the district to support the specific programmatic purposes defined in that agreement.”
A mill levy is basically a property tax used for a specific purpose. One full mill would be a single dollar for every $1,000 of assessed value.
“For many BOCES, what they’ve done is generate revenue to expand the amount of concurrent and dual enrollment activities,” Schaffer said. “Campbell County BOCES is really focused on career and technical education, providing more of those programs in the high school and at Gillette College. But every one is flavored slightly different … that’s the beauty of them: you can actually write them to align with the need of the community.”
Mayor Paul Weaver said a BOCES, with its revenue-generating power, could help support needed programs at the ACC even in years with low enrollment, when the programs would otherwise not be sustainable.
“To me, it really seems like the BOCES option needs to be pursued,” Weaver said. “We need to discuss that, we need to talk about the importance of that in solidifying the future of the Albany County Campus for us in the community.”
What should LCCC focus on?
Schaffer said his focus was less on the formation of a BOCES or other actions that could increase funding, and that he was more interested in learning what Albany County needs from its only community college. On that front, councilors had suggestions.
“I’m sure you all have discussed shifting from college preparation to the development of a more robust associate degree program,” Councilor Sharon Cumbie said. “Where we are producing technician-level individuals who leave with an associate’s degree, for instance, in computer information technology, or renewable energy — which is something that’s definitely going to be needed.”
President Schaffer said he was not opposed to the idea, but that ACC has tried to take a similar approach in the past and failed to make it sustainable.
“We have offered business degrees, accounting degrees, certificates, IT credentials through the Albany County Campus – a series of programs designed to do just that. And while there are opportunities, in general, it’s this model that just never pencils. Generally we end up running classes with three to five students.”
Cumbie said ACC had possibly been “ahead of its time” in offering those courses, and community needs might have shifted since then, making a “robust associate degree program” more realistic now.
Guidance on what those programs could look like might come from studies conducted by the city.
Thrive Laramie is a ten-year economic development plan published by the city of Laramie in early 2020. City Manager Janine Jordan said Laramie is currently looking to revisit that plan.
“We are actually waiting for the pandemic to play out,” she said. “It was a goal of the council this year to take another look at Thrive, because we completed that plan literally months before the pandemic started and we understand that the pandemic may be shaping the economy and local needs in ways that we did not anticipate.”
Jordan said the revisited and revamped plan could help LCCC identify community needs.
“We could certainly tailor some of our investigation when we open that plan back up … to try to center around emerging industries, taking into account the fact that some industries may have changed two years later in a post-COVID world,” Jordan said.
Weaver added the caveat that the coming months would bring “what we hope is a post-COVID world.”
“We’re frankly feeling continually buffeted by events beyond our control that affect our ability to do any long-range planning,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that LCCC has had a presence in Albany County for 35 decades. In fact, LCCC has had a presence in Albany County for 35 years. While it has long been a part of the Albany County community, the institution is not ancient.