A bill sponsored by Wyoming Sen. Tara Nethercott would allow community colleges throughout Wyoming to offer bachelors of applied science (B.A.S.) degrees to their students, has recently received approval from the Senate Education Committee.
The bill fulfills a statewide desire for advanced technical education degree programs being available closer to home. Currently, the degree program is only being offered through the University of Wyoming (UW).
UW officials have repeatedly opposed the legislation, arguing it would undermine the university’s efforts to create community college pipeline into its programs, create redundancies in Wyoming’s public education offerings and overrule its efforts to offer remote learning on the state’s seven community college campuses, according to the Casper Star Tribune.
However, Wyoming community college representatives disagree, recently arguing at the Senate Education Committee meeting that those offerings were insufficient and the community colleges would not be competing with UW if the bill were to pass.
At the meeting, Nethercott reassured the intent of the proposed legislation, agreeing with the representatives’ argument and stating that the purpose of the bill is to provide a solution to the need for a skilled workforce described in the state’s goals for economic development.
“This seems like a lack of understanding,” Nethercott said. “If you listen to the opposition, which comes from one source, we heard the word ‘change.’ This is about a fear of change.”
Several representatives who support the bill believe that community colleges were better suited to offer the bachelor’s degree program, the continuation of the otherwise terminal associates in applied sciences vocational degrees offered in community colleges.
Community colleges in 23 states already offer some type of a bachelor’s degree and although the University of Wyoming offers the B.A.S. degree, it is “not viable” for a large portion of the state’s workforce, several individuals argued at the meeting.
The shortage in B.A.S. degrees offered through Wyoming has prevented the state from expanding its workforce, a Central Wyoming College representative said.
The state is ranked 48th in the country for the number of bachelor’s degrees earned per 1,000 residents, the representative added.
As a result, many employers seeking to relocate to Wyoming have been hesitant to do so due to the state’s lack of a well-developed state workforce, Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Dale Steenbergen said.
The bill passed 4-1, with Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, opposing, stating that although he supported the bill’s intent, it should be discussed in the interim.