CHEYENNE — WyoTech isn’t dead yet.
Laramie County Community College has offered a plan to bring back the livelihood of the private technical school in Laramie.
WyoTech’s parent company, Education Credit Management Company, announced Nov. 8 that it would no longer accept new enrollments and plans to close its doors in June.
LCCC President Joe Schaffer announced Monday that the Cheyenne college is making an offer to ECMC to take over the mission of providing auto technician programs in Albany County.
“It’s not even what it brings to the table immediately. It’s what this would allow us to do in southeast Wyoming long term,” he said.
That opportunity is to continue the auto technician program and also have the chance to expand to other technical programs, Schaffer said.
WyoTech began operation in 1966 in Laramie and expanded during the next five decades to include, at its height, seven campuses nationwide.
Corinthian Colleges Inc. purchased several WyoTech campuses, including the one in Laramie, in 2001. The company declared bankruptcy in 2015, at which time ECMC bought the remaining campuses.
According to Caleb Perriton, WyoTech’s campus director, WyoTech Laramie in November employed 65 full-time employees and enrolled nearly 400 students at the campus.
Schaffer said he created an exploratory team after ECMC announced the closure to determine if it might be feasible for LCCC to take on WyoTech’s operations.
That team included Laramie’s city manager and other local stakeholders, WyoTech employees, and various LCCC employees, including Brady Hammond, LCCC’s associate vice president of the Albany County Campus.
Schaffer said the exploratory team considered ways LCCC could step in without affecting other state community colleges or altering the current state system. They also determined LCCC must receive a formal commitment to move forward and that Wyoming students must come first.
He added that there are further agreements or policy changes that have to take place to make this deal workable.
One is that ECMC must donate its vehicles, trainers, equipment, furniture and other assets to LCCC. Schaffer said the value of those assets is approximately $15 million.
“For us to acquire that would probably be closer to $25 million for what they have,” he said.
Additionally, the leases for WyoTech’s two instructional buildings and its residential complex have various end dates. Schaffer is requesting LCCC pay 25 percent of the cost of the instructional facilities through the lease and ECMC pay the remainder.
“They’re going to have to pay it anyway if they go dark in June,” he said. That is unless they can find another tenant to take over the full lease.
Schaffer explained that WyoTech’s residential facility is too large for its purpose. It has four buildings that house more than 600 students and currently is only at 32 percent capacity, according LCCC’s prospectus report.
“We’ve said, ‘We’ll take two of them. You can sublet the other ones,’” he said.
Schaffer added they are requesting the lease payments for LCCC be reduced to 25 percent of the cost for two years, increased to 50 percent for the next few years.
Another challenge of the proposal is that LCCC would need funding from the state and Albany County to make it work.
“The solution we think is probably the most ideal is actually getting the state Legislature to appropriate funds — in this case, it’s about $8.5 million over the next four years. We’re recommending they appropriate it in this session,” Schaffer said.
He said Albany County also would need to find an ongoing revenue stream of about $1.1 million to support the operations.
“The implication here is they’d have to formally tax themselves to support this,” Schaffer said.
The proposal is on the agenda for tonight’s Laramie City Council’s meeting.
Schaffer said the Legislature also would need to increase the allowable number of employees on state health insurance to avoid LCCC surpassing that number.
Despite all the hurdles, Schaffer said Albany County could see about $4.7 million worth of direct economic impact from continuing to have an operational auto technician program in the county.
Perriton agrees the opportunity to bring the program into LCCC’s operations is a good one.
“From the WyoTech perspective, a partnership with LCCC would make sense because it helps accomplish statewide goals not just local goals,” Perriton said. “I’m cautiously optimistic about this. Before we were kicking tires, and now, we’re talking price. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”
State Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, also fully supports LCCC’s proposal.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the state of Wyoming and a critical opportunity for Albany County and Laramie to find a way to maintain that WyoTech campus in operation,” he said Monday.
Rothfuss said LCCC is the right organization to take over WyoTech’s role in Albany County because LCCC already has automotive programs, and it is already accredited and can grant degrees, so the transition from WyoTech to LCCC could be seamless.
Rothfuss said he hopes the Legislature will support providing the $8.5 million to LCCC for the acquisition.
He said setting up a brand new school to fill WyoTech’s hole could cost between $60 million and $80 million.
Rothfuss added that the effort to continue WyoTech’s mission is essential at a time when Gov. Matt Mead and the executive council of ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) are working to expand the workforce and diversify the state’s economy.
“We couldn’t have had a better offer under those circumstances. So, if it takes a few million dollars for us to get this rolling, I think that’s a few million dollars very well spent,” Rothfuss said.
ECMC still could choose to go a different route, however.
Laura Telander Graf, ECMC’s public relations director, said in an email, “We appreciate Laramie County Community College’s interest in acquiring the WyoTech campus in Laramie, Wyoming. LCCC’s proposal is one of a few that we are currently reviewing.”
She said ECMC recognizes WyoTech’s value to the community and hopes to reach an agreement that allows the school’s mission to continue.