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Published July 07, 2022
Nearly four years since launching an ambitious effort to increase the educational attainment of Wyomingites, the state’s Educational Attainment Executive Council has wrapped up its work after establishing a foundation for further progress.
While the state’s postsecondary educational attainment rate is rising, along with graduation rates at the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges, continued focus will be necessary to achieve the goals outlined when the council was established by former Gov. Matt Mead in 2018 and codified as a state priority by the Legislature in 2019.
The goals were: increase the working population of adults who possess a valuable postsecondary degree or certificate to 60 percent by 2025 and 75 percent by 2040; and lift the six-year graduation rate to 65 percent at UW by 2030 and 70 percent by 2040, and the three-year community college graduation rate to 46 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040.
The efforts of the Educational Attainment Executive Council will be continued by the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP), established last year by Gov. Mark Gordon, as well as other partners focused on workforce development and economic diversification in the state.
“It is encouraging to see the progress that has been made under this multiyear effort,” Gordon says. “While there is still much work to be done, the partnerships that are in place and the ongoing collaborative effort position us well for further success.”
The Educational Attainment Executive Council included representatives from the Office of the Governor, UW, the Wyoming Community College Presidents Council, the Department of Education, the Department of Workforce Services, the Wyoming Business Council, Wyoming school district superintendents, the Wind River Indian Reservation, the Wyoming Business Alliance and the Legislature. The council launched in 2018 with a series of public meetings around the state to identify the barriers residents face to access and complete higher education certificates and degrees.
Since then, progress has been made on numerous fronts, raising hope that the attainment goals ultimately will be achieved.
The percentage of adults with postsecondary degrees or credentials rose from 45.1 percent in 2017 to 51.6 percent in 2019, the latest year for which data are available.
Meanwhile, UW’s six-year graduation rate increased from 56.7 percent for the 2012-18 student cohort to 60.2 percent for the 2015-2021 cohort. The three-year community college graduation rate has remained mostly steady at about 27 percent, hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic and related challenges.
“While there is much more work to do, a great deal has been accomplished in aligning Wyoming’s higher education institutions to not only increase educational attainment, but also to move the state forward in workforce and economic development,” UW President Ed Seidel says. “The foundation has been laid for more progress through the Wyoming Innovation Partnership, and we’re excited for what the future holds.”
“It has been an honor to be a part of the Educational Attainment Council and to celebrate the progress made these past few years,” says Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, one of the legislative representatives on the council. “The stakeholders worked together to find the solutions needed to break down the barriers for our citizens to attain the goals set forth in the legislation.”
Among the building blocks that have been put in place to continue the progress made by the Educational Attainment Executive Council are:
-- Establishment of WIP, which involves UW, the community colleges, the Office of the Governor, the Wyoming Business Council and the Department of Workforce Services. WIP is aligning and coordinating efforts among UW, the colleges and other partners to modernize and focus Wyoming’s efforts to develop a resilient workforce and economy.
-- The Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System is in development among the colleges, UW, the Department of Education and the Department of Workforce Services. It will collect and analyze Wyoming’s public education data at the individual, course, institution and system levels.
-- With the launch of www.wyotransfer.org, Wyoming’s institutions of higher education are using common course numbering, and a system is being developed to track credits and notify students of eligible degrees.
-- Studies have been conducted to identify current and future industry, workforce and economic needs. The result was the launch of a tool called “Career Coach and Skills” for use by students. It’s available at www.boots.wyo.gov.
-- The Department of Workforce Services has developed a monitoring structure for state licensure and credentials earned outside of the community colleges and UW to measure other types of postsecondary attainment.
-- Five community colleges now offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees, and UW has created a Bachelor of General Studies completion degree.
-- The Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship Program, designed to support nontraditional students looking to go to college after age 24, was created and partially funded by the Legislature.
-- The Ellbogen Opportunity Adult Scholarship Program was funded by the John P. Ellbogen Foundation as a way to bridge the gap until the Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship Program can be fully funded.
The Educational Attainment Executive Council held its final meeting May 24 and is passing the baton to WIP and other partners. Annual updates are planned through the Wyoming Community College Commission (WCCC) to the Legislature and other entities.
“The work of the Attainment Council has been completed with the implementation of the Wyoming Postsecondary Educational Attainment Strategic Plan and the adoption of the first year of metrics and measures,” says WCCC Executive Director Sandy Caldwell. “With the successes of efforts like Wyoming Works and Wyoming’s Tomorrow Scholarship programs, as well as the full integration of the attainment work across the higher education institutions and partnering agencies, there is a solid set of building blocks in place for the next stage of success through the Wyoming Innovation Partnership and other economic development efforts.”
“It is an exciting time in Wyoming. We have been able to make enormous progress toward reaching our state’s attainment goals,” says Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance. “I am excited to see the future progress as business and industry continue to work with our higher education partners.”