As automation and outsourcing create the need for higher levels of education in the workforce, Central Wyoming College has positioned itself at the vanguard of an ambitious statewide push to drastically increase the number of Wyomingites who boast some form of higher education. The college is pursuing a four-year offering, the Bachelor of Applied Science.
As opposed to a bachelor’s degree, which requires students to take classes in a variety of technical science courses, Bachelor of Applied Science degrees offer coursework in math, accounting, computer science, business law and employee relations, TheClassroom.com says. Students with associate degrees or workforce experience generally enter the programs to advance in their particular field.
“I see this student as an automotive student who is great at their trade but wants to own and operate their own shop,” CWC Director of Marketing and Public Relations Lori Ridgway said, “and they need the bachelor’s to go to the next step.”
The college’s pursuit of the Bachelor of Applied Science is one of the initial steps in a movement started by former Gov. Matt Mead to boost Wyoming’s rate of educational attainment, or postsecondary education that results in a degree or certificate. Mead penned a pair of executive orders in his final year in office, one setting the lofty 67% educational attainment goal and another forming the Wyoming Educational Attainment Council, the body tasked with achieving it.
Gov. Mark Gordon codified the council during the 2019 legislative session. Wyoming has an attainment rate of 48%, just higher than the national rate of 46.7%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2018. One of the council’s first steps is to define what educational attainment — or a “high-quality credential” — means and to develop a plan.
Defining the problem
“The definition is a credit, certification, degree or any other credential that earns at minimum a living wage and has career progression capacity potential,” Wyoming Community College Commission Executive Director Sandy Caldwell said.
Caldwell, who sits on the attainment taskforce, said attainment will have to permeate all levels of education if the state is going to meet its 2025 goal. That means creating a “college-going culture” that starts in the K-12 school system.
The attainment taskforce has members across the school system, from superintendents like Gillian Chapman from Teton County and Owen St. Clair from the Wind River Indian Reservation, as well as Wyoming Superintendent Jillian Balow. Those representatives can help the council incorporate college readiness into its plans, and the taskforce gives educators the opportunity to discuss the meaning of “high-quality credentials.”
Not just a degree
Past philosophies have valued four-year bachelor’s degrees over other forms of postsecondary education, but a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce says a bachelor’s degree won’t be necessary for the majority of jobs in 2020. It says 65% of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education, but a bachelor’s degree or higher will be needed for only 35% of total jobs.
Nearly a third of the workforce will need a certificate or associate degree, and the attainment council is looking to bolster all levels of postsecondary education to give students the skills they need for their chosen career paths, rather than stressing that they follow the four-year path. Boosting the attainment rate means offering more programs that students, particularly adults, see as necessary for their advancement.
Central Wyoming College’s proposed Bachelor of Applied Science program is part of that effort. Other community college may also consider the degrees, which have the added benefit of being local, allowing students to stay closer to home.
“Legislators were looking for two types of students, workforce students and, in particular, those that are site bound,” Ridgway said.
Both of these things, the council’s plan to boost attainment and CWC’s new program, are in the planning phase. Since the council was formed just a few months ago, Caldwell said, it is drawing up plans that it can collect public comment on before beginning implementation. Ridgway said CWC is awaiting approval from the Higher Learning Commission and the Wyoming Community College Commission before the new degree program can move forward.
“There is a $1.5 million lifetime difference in earnings between a bachelor’s degree and a high school diploma, and an associate’s is between that,” Caldwell said. “Educational attainment is the No. 1 predictor of someone’s success.”