Western Nebraska Community College Interim President John Marrin says he was very pleased with Wednesday’s public listening session in Chadron, held as part of developing the school’s next strategic plan.
Marrin, 5 other WNCC staffers, and 2 members of the WNCC board said little during the 90 minute gathering other than to encourage the baker’s dozen of local residents to share their experiences and frustrations with the college.
Marrin says the size and makeup of the audience – all representatives of the city of Chadron, Dawes County, Chadron State College, Chadron Community Hospital, the Crawford school district, or the media – were similar to the sessions already held.
Marrin asked some basic questions such as how WNCC is perceived in the area, what are the biggest local challenges, how is it helping meet those challenges, and how can it do a better job of that.
One thing became clear – WNCC has not done a good job of telling its own story about the services it’s providing to Northern Panhandle residents and how many people are taking classes of one sort or another from the school.
County Commissioner Jake Stewart told Marrin the county board felt Dawes County residents aren’t getting their money’s worth with over $900,000 in property taxes going to WNCC and only 3 or 4 students from the area taking classes there.
After a quick conference and note-checking, Marrin said 50 or so local residents are WNCC students when those in health professions and dual-credit college-high courses are included.
There was unanimous agreement that the area’s biggest need is more jobs to either keep local graduates here or make it possible for them to return a few years later. WNCC was encouraged to expand its vocational and healthcare offerings as well as to better publicize courses and programs it already has.
WNCC is holding similar meetings in all 13 counties it serves, then will set up focus groups this summer in specific fields such as school guidance counselors before returning to the counties with follow up meetings this fall.
The goal is to complete the strategic plan by early next year when the search for a permanent president will begin. Marrin, who retired in 2016 after 8 years as president at Colorado’s Lamar Junior College and over 20 years as a WNCC administrator, became interim president last June after the unexpected resignation of Dr Carmen Simone.