Students who want to grow their professional management skills will soon be able to do so in their own backyard.
Following the passage of Senate File 111, Central Wyoming College administrators are taking steps to debut the first four-year degree at the Jackson campus, a Bachelor of Applied Science.
The new offering — still at least a year out — will allow students to pursue a bachelor’s without a cross-state move, said the college’s Outreach Center director, Susan Durfee. Currently the degree is offered only at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.
“We have an extremely busy summer and winter work season here in Teton County,” Durfee said. “Being able to stay here in town will open up doors to our community members to be able to perhaps rise to running their own businesses and starting their own businesses.”
The ability for all seven community colleges in the state to offer the degree could push Wyoming students closer to achieving an Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming — better known as ENDOW — initiative set by Gov. Matt Mead, who has since left office. Mead issued two executive orders in 2018 aimed at bolstering education: first, a goal of 67 percent of Wyoming adults earning a postsecondary credential by 2025; second, 82 percent hitting that goal by 2045.
In 2018 that figure was closer to 48 percent for Wyomingites between 25 and 64 years old.
“If we’re serious about advancing significant educational attainment in Wyoming,” said Lynne McAuliffe, the dean for business, technical, health and safety programs and the overseer of the Start Up Intensive program in Jackson, “we have to spread the ability to offer more of that advanced education throughout the state rather than completely having it centered at the University of Wyoming.”
State Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Laramie, sponsor of the bill, believes authorizing community colleges to award Bachelors of Applied Science degrees is key to hitting ENDOW goals. The degree is designed for students interested in leadership roles in technical fields and hands-on professions.
“The topic of increasing educational opportunities in Wyoming has been a conversation for many years with a recognition of the part it plays with economic diversification,” Nethercott said. “The concept wasn’t new in that regard, but I think the narrowly tailored version of community colleges having the ability to offer a Bachelor in Applied Science as opposed to a broad blanket of any bachelor’s degree allowed it to be successful.”
While Jackson’s version of the bachelor’s degree is still being planned, McAuliffe said it would likely be similar to the University of Wyoming Bachelor of Applied Science in organizational leadership.
“We don’t have all the details worked out,” McAuliffe said, “but our intention will certainly be to offer the Bachelor of Applied Science degree to as broad a number of students as we can possibly reach.”
Students who are already on the path to earning an applied science associate degree will have those courses count toward the bachelor’s degree if they decide to pursue it.
Focuses will vary depending on location and dominant industries and could include coal, tribal or educational leadership specializations. In Jackson it could mean working closely with UW’s new travel and tourism major or the existing culinary and hospitality or outdoor programs.
“I think we could do things that are more specific and more targeted towards really what those employers need specifically in Teton County,” McAuliffe said.
There’s no estimated cost increase to offer the degree because most of the college faculty, the biggest expense, hold master’s degrees that allow them to instruct at a bachelor’s level.
“There’s no real anticipation of it being a costly program,” McAuliffe said.
The bachelor’s probably won’t be offered for a year or a year and a half. The college must take several steps before rolling out the new degree, starting with a work-task group to explore curriculum.
A first draft of the program will go through an internal approval process, then go to the college’s board of trustees and on to the Wyoming Community College Commission. Because it’s a new degree level for the college, Central Wyoming will also need to obtain accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, which includes a site visit.
“It’s really exciting,” Nethercott said. “I do think it will be a game changer for the state of Wyoming.”