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Community College Partnerships Create New Opportunities

Renew Nursing Program
Maranda Windsor and her fellow nursing students at Casper College work in the Simulation Lab. Thanks to ReNEW, nursing students across the state can earn a bachelor’s degree without leaving home.

UW works closely with Wyoming’s seven community colleges to offer students enhanced educational options and a seamless transfer process.

By Micaela Myers 

In the fall of 2016, the University of Wyoming welcomed 976 new transfer students, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. Thanks to strong partnerships with Wyoming’s seven community colleges, it’s now easier than ever for students to seamlessly transfer and succeed in completing their bachelor’s degrees.   

Two-plus-Two Agreements Unrolled

Many questions come to mind for students who transfer from a community college to UW. The most important is whether the courses they have taken at that college will transfer and count toward their degrees at UW. In the past, many Wyoming community college students ended up with extra credits—courses that transferred but didn’t count toward degree-required coursework. This resulted in students taking longer than four years to graduate, which in many cases meant Hathaway and other funding sources dried up prior to them completing their bachelor’s degree. For nearly three years, UW has been working with all seven community colleges to remedy this. The results are rolling out now in the form of two-plus-two program articulation agreements, which outline for students which courses to take during their two years at community college and which they will take during their two years at UW to complete their degrees in eight semesters.

“What these transfer articulation agreements do is give students a guarantee that if they take certain classes during their first two years, they will transfer as what they need, and they won’t be behind or have taken anything extraneous,” says Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa.

Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer says: “We realized we had to do a better job to make sure there was that clear path from their very first class at LCCC to the completion of their baccalaureate degree at UW. What that means now is that we can sit down with students and with some assurance say, ‘This is the path to your bachelor’s degree at UW, and these are the courses you need to take.’ ”

Community college and UW faculty are working hard to align their courses and degree programs. “Two years ago, 17 high-enrollment programs began the articulation process,” says Patrice Noel, UW director of transfer relations. “Last year, the 18 next highest-enrollment programs were added, and this year 15 programs suggested by the community colleges are starting articulation, resulting in 50 total. Currently, there are over 200 plans that have been completed. The two-plus-two plans will be published on the UW degree plan website in the near future.”

The agreements will cover the majority of transferring majors, Noel says. The partnerships are ongoing, and yearly meetings will keep the program agreements up to date.

“These two-plus-twos cover all six UW colleges. They run from the fine arts to the heavy STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields,” says Creative Writing Professor Alyson Hagy, interim dean of the UW Outreach School and a former associate vice president for academic affairs who has helped lead the effort.

The work accomplished thus far benefits not only students but also their families and the state. 

“We know from the data that students who complete an associate’s degree before they transfer to the university tend to persist at a higher rate and complete at a higher rate when they get to the university,” Schaffer says.

“It’s a win for the students, because they have the opportunity to start anywhere in the state and be able to earn a bachelor’s degree in an efficient amount of time,” Noel says. “It’s a win for the community college and UW because we are going to have more students completing degrees.”

ReNEW Nursing Program Offers Bachelor’s Statewide

Community college nursing students across the state can now complete their bachelor of science in nursing (B.S.N.) degrees without coming to Laramie thanks to the ReNEW program—Revolutionizing Nursing Education in Wyoming. Not only is the program convenient and cost-effective for Wyoming’s nursing students, but it can also improve health care across the state, as baccalaureate-educated nurses are linked with better patient outcomes.

ReNEW started with a curriculum overhaul and alignment between UW and the six participating Wyoming community colleges. “The curriculum is next-generation nursing education,” says K. David Bodily, director of ReNEW. “It’s a concept-driven curriculum versus a content-driven curriculum—meaning that we’re preparing people to be able to adapt to the rapidly changing health-care environment.” 

The program took great effort by all parties involved and was supported by the Wyoming Workforce Development Council and funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“With ReNEW, we were able to capitalize on our already existing strong community college partners,” says Mary Burman, dean of the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. Students complete three years at any of the six participating Wyoming community colleges, then complete a fourth year online through UW.  

Roughly 40 percent of Wyoming’s nurses have bachelor’s degrees, which is lower than the national average, Burman says.

“As a result of ReNEW, we’ll see more people pursuing and achieving the baccalaureate in nursing as well as the university see its outreach efforts really take advantage of that network of the community colleges,” Schaffer says.

Kathy Luzmoor, nursing program director at Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC), served as co-chair of ReNEW’s professional development committee. “People who live in the communities needed a vehicle to not only become registered nurses at the associate’s level but also to have a pathway to a bachelor’s degree,” she says. “By having a higher percentage of nurses with bachelor’s degrees, we’re going to be saving lives. That’s big.” 

ReNEW officially began in fall 2016 and is already seeing great interest from nursing students, with most saying they plan to complete their bachelor’s degrees via the program. 

“I currently am in my first year in the nursing program at WWCC,” says Jonathan Jenkins, who plans to complete the ReNEW program and hopes to work in Wyoming. “I want to further my education in order to provide the best care possible once I am in the field. One of the major benefits of ReNEW is that it serves as a guideline for me to follow while I am in college. I think ReNEW is important for the state because it gives opportunity to nursing students to stay in Wyoming for their education. At the same time, when these students experience their clinical practice within the state, it further familiarizes them in the community and helps to encourage students to stay in Wyoming once they are in the workforce.”

INBRE Encourages Research Across Wyoming

While not new, the INBRE (IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence) program continues to build upon strong community college partnerships and to aid students in transferring successfully to UW.

“The goal of the program is to help states that are underserved by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) build their biomedical research and education infrastructure so that they become competitive for NIH dollars,” says Wyoming Program Director R. Scott Seville.

While most INBRE states form a network of in-state universities, UW has created a network with the seven community colleges. “We have a suite of programs that target the community colleges to help them build research infrastructure so that students are working in laboratories doing scientific investigations,” Seville says. 

These programs fund research-mentored projects at community colleges, fund partner projects between UW and community college faculty members and much more. INBRE also offers video-conference seminars and upper-level courses online to help students get ahead before transferring.

Schaffer says: “The INBRE program allows us to really partner with the university and deliver undergraduate research, which is something that many community college students would never have the opportunity to experience. I think it opens the eyes of so many students into the science fields and really gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment as they dig into a really rich academic exercise that may lead to presentation or even publication.”

Hicswa agrees: “The fact that our students are doing undergraduate research as freshmen and sophomores leads to people who want to be researchers. Our society needs scientific research, and the INBRE program makes that happen.

“We recently heard back from one of our INBRE students who just got his doctorate in biology,” she continues. “It’s because of the INBRE program. He’s a first-generation student who never thought he’d ever go to college. That’s what education is all about.” 

INBRE’s transition fellowships provide funding for a number of top transfer students each semester. “The students must maintain a B average, and they commit to working approximately 10 hours a week in a research lab conducting independent mentored research with a UW faculty member,” Seville says. This semester, the program is supporting 19 transfer students.

Graduate student Sara Cisneros participated in INBRE-funded research at Central Wyoming College and then took advantage of the transition fellowship, moving to Laramie to complete her bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. She’s now in the first year of UW’s molecular and cellular life sciences Ph.D. program. “I have two kids, and I’m a single mother,” Cisneros says. “I wouldn’t have been able to finish college without my INBRE scholarship. Because they focus on recruiting from community colleges, they tend to get a lot of nontraditional students. I’m really grateful for that.”

Meeting the Needs of Displaced Coal Workers

This past spring, Campbell County saw hundreds of layoffs in the coal industry. The University of Wyoming is working with the county on a number of fronts to meet the needs of residents. Creative Writing Professor Alyson Hagy, interim dean of the UW Outreach School and a former associate vice president for academic affairs who helped lead the articulation agreement efforts, is serving as President Laurie Nichols’ representative on the Energy Capital Economic Development Higher Education Task Force.

“The task force has solicited proposals to study higher education needs in northeast Wyoming,” Hagy says. “UW is ready to work with Gillette College to develop or enhance academic programs that will serve unmet needs in Campbell County and the region. President Nichols is directly involved in these conversations. It’s an important role for UW to play.”

Hagy also traveled with UW representatives to answer questions for potential students at the UW outreach center in Gillette. “We have nine bachelor’s degrees that we offer fully online,” she says. “Our enrollment numbers for northeastern Wyoming are very strong, and, overall, inquiries to the Outreach School Northeast Regional Center in Gillette have been up.”

In addition to UW’s work in Campbell County, the College of Engineering and Applied Science initially created 10 scholarships for former energy-industry employees and their children to pursue engineering-related degrees at UW or any of Wyoming’s community colleges. The college will actively raise money for additional awards.

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