Community colleges take next steps to offer 4-year degrees

Posted 3/22/19

CHEYENNE — The state of Wyoming has officially authorized its seven community colleges to offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. It’s the fruit of a hard-fought battle in the Legislature over Senate File 111 (now Enrolled Act 80.)

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Community colleges take next steps to offer 4-year degrees


By Morgan Hughes

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — The state of Wyoming has officially authorized its seven community colleges to offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. It’s the fruit of a hard-fought battle in the Legislature over Senate File 111 (now Enrolled Act 80.)

SF 111 was one piece of legislation seeking to bolster attainment in the state.

In 2018, then-Gov. Matt Mead issued two executive orders to increase post-secondary attainment in Wyoming. The executive order was in response to a recommendation from the ENDOW committee, which seeks to find ways to diversify Wyoming’s economy.

The first executive order set a goal to have 67 percent of Wyoming adults earn a post-secondary credential by 2025. The second executive order set that goal at 82 percent for 2045.

Last year, only 48 percent of Wyoming adults ages 25-64 had obtained a post-secondary credential, a far cry from Mead’s goal, the deadline for which now looms even closer.

The number of bachelor’s degrees conferred in Wyoming has increased in the last decade, but not by much. In 2008, Wyoming conferred 1,802 bachelor’s degrees. In 2016, it conferred 2,164, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While bachelor’s degrees are not the only credentials considered when calculating the attainment figure, as community colleges begin implementing new BAS programs, the hope is attainment will increase.

BAS degrees are narrowly tailored, so it isn’t like a bachelor’s degree offered by the University of Wyoming (though UW does offer some BAS programs as well.) Only students who have earned an Associate in Applied Science will be able to enroll in the BAS programs, and the end goal is to qualify students for industry management positions.

Advocates argued during the session that allowing community colleges to offer these degrees allows broader access to attainment across the state.

Before any of that can happen, though, there’s a laundry list of tasks the colleges must accomplish.

“It is up to the individual colleges to go through the next steps in a timely manner,” said Sandy Caldwell, executive director of the Wyoming Community College commission.

Those steps include requesting approval to offer the higher-level degrees from the colleges’ accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission.

HLC allows institutions to offer up to three programs at a higher credential level than previously offered before needing to go through a more robust accreditation process.

Caldwell also said colleges will need to have a lot of internal discussions with their boards of trustees to make program decisions based on community need.

The Laramie County Community College is looking to implement two programs to start. Those programs will depend on community and business input, but early suggestions range from applied management programs to information technology and health-care administration degrees.

“To get two of them up, running and mature in the next two to five years is our target,” LCCC President Joe Schaffer said.

He said he expects it will cost between $400,000 and $500,000 to get the programs off the ground. With the school’s budget tight, private gifts to the LCCC Foundation will be the primary funding source for implementing those programs. He said he believes they have enough to get one or two programs up and running for the first three years.

After that point, he said tuition and, later down the line, potential increases in state-allocated funds could pay for the programs. Increased state funding would require the school see increased enrollment, which Schaffer said may happen with the new BAS programs.

The earliest LCCC would start accepting students into the applied programs would be fall 2020, Schaffer said.

SF 111’s sponsor in the Legislature, Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, said she hopes the implementation of the programs will result in a more robust business environment in the state.

“I hope this results in making Wyoming more attractive for businesses to do their business here, by creating the workforce they need,” she said.

The local bent of the bill is also a crucial component, she said. It’s up to the individual colleges’ boards of trustees to determine which programs are most crucial to their local communities, and they do that through engagement with businesses and members of the public, she said.

Wyoming Business Alliance President Cindy Delancey agreed.

“In a state the size of Wyoming, we need all hands on deck,” she said.

Delancey was one of SF 111’s most vocal champions. She said she hopes it results in more Wyomingites in Wyoming’s workforce.

“In five years, it’s my hope the workforce in Wyoming will be filled will Wyoming workers instead of out-of-state workers,” she said.She thinks the BAS programs will help get the state to that goal by putting more Wyoming students in the position to fill management roles.

Wyoming is the 25th state to authorize community colleges to offer BAS degrees, and though it will be some time before there’s useful data available from those programs, other states set a promising example.

Washington state authorized its community colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degrees in 2007. In the decade since, the state is matching upwards of 80 and 90 percent, and in some cases 100 percent, of program graduates with employers.

Still, Delancey said this is just one tool in the toolbox, and she hopes the education community and the business community can continue to work together to meet the state’s goals.