EWC board advocates more data-driven decisions

Rhett Breedlove
Posted 6/14/24

TORRINGTON – The Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) Board of Trustees met at the Tebbet building at 4 p.m. Tuesday evening for the monthly discussion of plans, concerns, and crucial agenda items …

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EWC board advocates more data-driven decisions


TORRINGTON – The Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) Board of Trustees met at the Tebbet building at 4 p.m. Tuesday evening for the monthly discussion of plans, concerns, and crucial agenda items pertaining to not only the college but the entire community.

Present at the meeting was college president Dr. Jeffry Hawes, as well as chairman of the board Jackie Van Mark.

Additionally present were trustees Randy Adams, Doug Mercer, Kurt Sittner, Katherine Patrick, and Robert Baumgardner.

Vice chair Rick Vonberg as well as fellow board member Jim Willox were unable to attend.

The primary focus of the evening’s meeting pertained of course to issues of finance, grants, and compliance with both state and federal regulations. However, with classes being out for the summer and college faculty/staff having a bit of breathing room for planning, Dr. Hawes took the evening as a rare opportunity to encourage board members to begin taking a more distinctive approach to policymaking heading forward.

According to both Dr. Hawes as well as interim vice president of student and academic affairs John Hansen, EWC is in the perfect position from both a financial and business standpoint to initiate making strong logical decisions based virtuously on data-collected management.

As both Dr. Hawes and Hansen would explain in depth to the board of trustees, now that the college has concluded its 75 years as an institution of higher learning, any decision made should be based on collected logistical data-driven information.

According to the college president, it is with this approach the institution can make one spot-on decision after another in the future while expressing sincere advocation for each board member to give it some thought for next month’s meeting in July.

“This is a work session designed to talk about strategic planning for our organization,” Dr. Hawes began. “What are our current goals in the college as far as policy, or even me as president? We are not a data-rich organization, and you will see a presentation from a company who can move us beyond what I will call ‘gen-one data collection,’ which is what people were doing 20 years ago. That’s the plan for tonight and I want to send the board home with the information we currently have, and we will revisit those one month from now at next month’s meeting. We will give the board a month to relay and reflect what we discuss now, where we want to be, and where we would like to go in the next 12 months.”

“One of the things we realized is there occasionally are things nearly impossible to solve because of contradictory information,” Hansen added. “How large are our classes for example? All of those things can be incomplete or contradictory unless you have a single point of truth. One of the reasons in looking out there in the marketplace was to find someone who could sink up with our colleagues and really point to a solid footing not only for one course but across our entire system. It’s interesting to think about how Wyoming as a system has operated and how we have been placed with money, but we have about 160 courses with six students or less enrolled in them. How do we make a decision based on which course comes first? To live or thrive in strategy or structure, you have to have a clear or concrete essence on where the data is.”

As part of Hansen’s presentation regarding appropriate data collection, guest speaker and founder of Gray Decision Intelligence software (GrayDi), Robert Atkins, was introduced via Zoom before the board to discuss the long-term benefits of a partnership between the company and EWC.

According to Atkins, the company started just more than 20 years ago from scratch and now services over 60 colleges nationwide. With statistical aspects regarding faculty, staff, student enrollment, athletics, and lab work, Atkins noted the modern software is just what EWC needs at this particular point in time. 

“We launched in 2002, and back then we could’ve fit our entire company in a taxicab,” Atkins joked. “Now we offer a complete program evaluation and are a total software system. It is critical to your purpose, and you may want to keep it. You need to achieve the right outcomes for your students, and the academic quality of your programs. You can find yourselves building a solid program, and then no students want it. You need human beings to collect your data in order to make decisions, and it’s very worth it to bring it together. If you simply look at the results, you will generally get the answer right, and will allow you to make better decisions. This vastly simplifies problems and promotes growth. We can keep track of what is growing and what is shrinking. We built a model to predict how big it would actually be, and it’s actually an insurance policy. We can test an idea and if it’s not a good one, no worries we can go find another one.

“Look at an athlete statistically, the revenue they bring into the academic side and the expenses of teaching them,” Atkins continued. “Building a program is not that bad, but maintaining it is a whole other scale. It always costs less to build software than it does to maintain. When we start with a new customer, we view it as a new relationship and building new things because you are not the only one. If you have ideas, we are all ears. If it’s too big we will let you know, but usually, we work to achieve whatever it is you need.”

The meeting continued with a prominent presentation by president and/CEO of W&W Land and Capital LLC, W&W Value Creation Inc. and W&W Family Trust, Martin Winchell, regarding recently proposed WIP ag grants within college programs.

As Winchell would explain to trustees, the ag programs at the college are incredibly strong, while also advocating it has all the potential to be even stronger in the long term. Additionally, Winchell voiced a solid position in which the college must work diligently to keep students within Wyoming’s monetary growth and workforce.

“I started with EWC in March specifically to help and redevelop ag programming,” Winchell explained. “This a little bit of ‘Back to the Future’ for me, and I’ve had two things. One is agriculture and the other is commerce. The first thing I wanted to talk about was the position of our WIP grant and things we are working on there. The first thing to do is develop an advisory board, which we have already done. Each member would serve for two years, and it’s a very diverse area. Some are from our area and some are not, but it’s nice to get outside opinions.

“The second part is our partnership with service,” Winchell continued. “It is rare you would have a system where students would go to a two-year college and not finish at a four-year institution. How do we educate these kids and get them into the workforce and our economic development? We don’t have a good system where we are recruiting local kids. They go off to Colorado or Texas, and they do not join our workforce. We need to close the gap within the industry with skills to make them more marketable.”

Shortly before the meeting’s adjournment, Dr. Hawes had remindful words of reassurance to each board member, as well as a handful of college staff in attendance regarding the importance of data-driven management as EWC slowly heads forward to another year.

“We are fixing things on so many fronts and every dollar is critical,” Hawes said. “I can’t tell you we are ready to turn the key, but I do have plenty of staff saying, ‘let’s go tomorrow.’ To get to that data is a starting point. It’s not that we don’t want quality, but we have to see certain things we previously didn’t know. How do we make sure these goals are being met? This product is a game changer. A big one. And we need to support our faculty with this and to see what this tool can do. Instead of faculty suggesting students perhaps take this course this semester, or this course that semester they can have their whole schedule planned out within minutes. These are the mindsets that can change how we serve our students.

The meeting adjourned at 7:53 p.m. and will reconvene July 9 at the EWC Tebbet building at 4 p.m.