UW President: Community College Cooperation Essential to Wyoming Education

December 1, 2011
Michelle Higgins, a senior in social science, participates in a video conference at the University of Wyoming/Casper College Center. Students take classes at Casper College for two years, and are taught by UW faculty members based at the UW/Casper College Center to complete the bachelor's degrees.

Increased demands for higher education opportunities in Wyoming will require even greater cooperation between the University of Wyoming and the state's community colleges, UW President Tom Buchanan says.

After visiting this fall with community college trustees and presidents around the state, Buchanan says all agree that that it is in the state's best interest to improve opportunities at all levels of education in Wyoming.

He notes 45 percent of community college students are 25 years old or older, and many have job and family obligations that do not allow them to attend classes offered at the Laramie campus.

"UW is doing a good job reaching many students with our outreach programs, and working together with community colleges we have made many advances to provide educational opportunities for our residents. But we have to do more," Buchanan says. "UW must have a stronger physical presence on each campus, customized to meet the needs of the community college."

Efforts to achieve a stronger UW presence away from the Laramie campus are moving forward in several locations, Buchanan says. The university's board of trustees recently approved issuing $10 million in revenue bonds to cover part of UW's contribution toward a joint facility to be shared by UW and Casper College. Ground breaking is scheduled to take place early in 2012.

UW also has committed planning funds to build a joint facility at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, ranked at the top of the Wyoming Community College Commission's construction priority list. A review committee has developed a concept for a College of Agriculture and Natural Resources research and extension center south of Sheridan College, and UW also contributed more than $1 million to help construct an Intertribal Center Education and Community Center at Central Wyoming College that houses the UW Outreach School's Fremont County offices.

The effort goes beyond building new facilities, however. Buchanan says UW and community colleges are developing more creative ways to support outreach education.

"Every delivery method we can muster will be important in this continuing work. UW needs to provide strong leadership statewide in higher education," Buchanan says. He cites UW's longtime partnership with Casper College as a model for successful collaboration. Students take classes at Casper College for two years and are taught by UW faculty members based at the UW/ Casper College Center to complete bachelor's degrees.

UW courses and degree programs also are delivered statewide, at community college sites and beyond, through the UW Outreach School's distance technologies. Like the Wyoming community colleges, UW uses a variety of technologies to deliver courses, including video and web conferencing, streaming audio and video, and online.

Other examples of expanding UW's statewide presence include a UW horticulturist who will live and work in Sheridan beginning January 2012 and the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources' plans to add some third-year courses to be offered at Sheridan. The university's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center hosts Eastern Wyoming College livestock classes and plans to offer a basic soils class this spring.

Buchanan cites several other cooperative programs between UW and the community colleges to promote educational opportunities:

UW and the community colleges strengthened programs to ensure a smooth transfer process for students, including continuing an annual Wyoming Higher Education Articulation Conference to address transfer issues.

"Developing good communication and cooperation between the schools is very important," says Joanna Anderson, vice president for student services at Casper College. "I was excited that the university added a transfer conference for community colleges this fall held at Casper College. It's critical that we all work together if we are going to increase the number of degree holders needed for our state, region and country to remain competitive in a global economy."

UW and the Wyoming community colleges recently received a seven-year, $3.6 million grant to continue the Gear Up program that supports low-income seventh- through 12th-graders, including during the first year of college.

Wyoming IDeA Networks for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) since 2002 has allocated more than $2.1 million to Wyoming community colleges to support faculty and students and purchase equipment and supplies to conduct biomedical research on their campuses.

The Outreach School produced a course transfer guide that provides detailed information on course transfer and equivalencies. The Wyoming Distance Education Consortium and the Wyoming Distance Learning Center also produced a website listing all Wyoming higher education distance courses.

UW's Early Care and Education Center has just joined with child care facilities at all Wyoming community colleges to form a new association aimed at boosting early childhood programs across the state.

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