CHEYENNE — Wyoming community colleges are looking to start a new program that aims to increase the number of students successfully completing college.

Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, told members of the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee on Monday that the commission proposes starting the program in the 2015 fiscal year.

Under the program, about $12 million in funding for the state's seven community colleges would be allocated based on the number of students who pass courses. Traditionally, the colleges receive money based on the number of students enrolling for courses.

The idea behind the new program is to increase the number of students who graduate by giving colleges incentive to invest in ways to help more students succeed.

Currently, only 28.7 percent of first-time, full-time students graduate in three years from the state's two-year colleges.

Rose said the community colleges are embracing the concept of awarding money based on student completion rates.

"Everybody agrees we got to do better," he said. "It's not good enough to get these students in the door and then let them languish in remedial education or spend all this time just swirling around and never gaining any real credential or degree."

Rose said most of the state's community colleges have similar completion rates so the incentive money should be distributed pretty much evenly among the colleges.

The committee also heard from college presidents and officials about the need for more state funding to keep up with enrollment increases.

Gov. Matt Mead rejected the Wyoming Community College Commission's $14.3 million budget request to address increased enrollment at the community colleges.

The Wyoming Community College Commission voted last week to raise tuition for in-state students by $4 per credit hour in part to help offset the cost of handling more students. The increase adds about $96 more per year for a full-time student.

Meanwhile, community college officials on Monday said a comprehensive study would help paint an accurate picture of employee compensation for the state's seven two-year colleges compared to competing institutions.

A report to the Joint Appropriations Committee said pay raises granted by the colleges from their own money ranged from 4 percent to more than 9 percent in recent years.

Each of the seven community colleges is awarded a block grant and the local trustees decide how the money will be spent.

Because of the flexibility, information about salaries is largely anecdotal, Rose said.

Several community college presidents defended the pay raises their boards gave employees.

Jo Anne McFarland, president of Central Wyoming College at Riverton, said the trustees awarded employees three salary increases since 2002 for a total of 9.4 percent in an attempt to keep the institution competitive.

At the time, entry pay was 13.7 percent below the average among the colleges, she said. The college had three failed searches for one position, she said.

Casper College President Walter Nolte said the college granted a 2.8 percent increase to faculty to stay on the salary schedule. The money came from positions vacated by early retirements.

Joe Schaffer, president of Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, said the college found money for a 2.5 percent pay raise for employees from internal reallocations and the elimination of one dean and other positions.

Schaffer said the state should authorize a community college pay study like the Hay study for state employee compensation.

Rose agreed.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said Gillette College had a 36 percent increase in enrollment driven by industry's demand for workforce training. The city, county and industry pay for some of the positions at the college, she said.

Star-Tribune capital bureau reporter Joan Barron contributed to this story.

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