College district president says vaccine mandate a possibility

SHERIDAN — Walt Tribley doesn’t want to do it.

The Northern Wyoming Community College District president alluded to a possible no-way-around-it decision to impose a vaccine requirement coming down the line in the near future, and he expressed necessity not based on data but on budgeting.

“I sent out a letter today — we worked on it together in the president’s office — to start preparing the campus for the eventuality that I may be in front of you recommending a vaccine mandate, which is not something that I would do for many reasons,” Tribley told the NWCCD Board of Trustees Tuesday at the final board meeting of 2021. “The first (reason) because our own data doesn’t suggest we do anything that could potentially interrupt education and employment and upset people unnecessarily.”

Sheridan College staff continue working to fill the deficit left by Gillette College officially becoming its own entity in Gillette Community College District this year. New programs cater to folks needing evening classes to earn an associate degree; others needing their own pace through online bachelor degree offerings; and pulling in lifelong learners with fly-fishing classes, among others.

Additionally, Vice President of Student Affairs Jen Crouse aims to lower the percentage of students not living on campus from its current 52 percent. Through two large donations of $100,000 each from First Federal Bank and Trust and the Joe and Arlene Watt Foundation Inc., Crouse said the college will provide $1,000 scholarships for students in the fall semester and, as incentive to remain on campus for the spring semester, another $1,000 stipend for on-campus housing.

“The $200,000 that we just recently received will help us drive tuition for housing,” Crouse said, noting the scholarships will help increase full-time enrollment numbers in addition to filling current vacant housing. “...We are scholarshipping 100 students to help fill those residence halls.”

While staff efforts prove successful — Johnson County Advisory Board Chair Cindy Kremers reported positive community response from new program announcements in Buffalo — the need to follow federal vaccine requirements remains imperative to NWCCD, as enrolled students spent $5.5 million in federal financial aid in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“We can’t exist without it,” Tribley said. “Our students need it.”

Tribley said administrators sent a letter across campus to begin the conversation of having to implement the unwanted requirement, and no decisions would be made without board approval. He hopes to explore every possible exception, including working remotely.

“Nobody feels the need to do this from our health and safety perspective,” Tribley said. “...We do accept federal funding, we can’t exist without it. That’s the conundrum.”