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POWELL - Northwest College has a national reputation as a top community college for students looking to compete in speech and debate tournaments, where detailed knowledge of politics and current events is key.

But in a sparsely populated state like Wyoming, finding lots of local students who subscribe to The Economist and track the success of economic sanctions in quelling civil unrest in Africa is not always easy.

"We get a lot of support here, and we have very good recruiting," said Duane Fish, co-director of the NWC forensics program and a speech and debate coach at the school for more than three decades.

Part of the program's success lies in its open enrollment policy, which allows any student to join the team, regardless of his or her experience in speech or debate, he said.

A new scholarship program aimed at Park County students could help boost the already strong local representation on the team, as well as local enrollment throughout the college.

Park County Promise will set aside funds specifically for local students who qualify and will offer them additional financial aid over two years, said NWC President Paul Prestwich.

"The program provides additional aid to Park County students in a way that thanks and recognizes those in Park County for their support of the college," Prestwich told a group of Cody business leaders at a luncheon earlier this week.

Modeled after the state-sponsored Hathaway Scholarship, Park County Promise aims to offer greater stability and financial predictability to students over their first two years of college.

For eligible full-time students, the Park County Promise combined with the Hathaway Scholarship can provide between $2,600 and $4,700 per year.

The program follows simple criteria based on grade-point averages and is funded through the Northwest College Foundation, Prestwich said.

"It gives students a commitment that if they maintain their GPA, they'll get financial aid across two years. We want them to graduate. We want them to finish whatever their educational goal is," he said.