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UW Awarded $1.2M to Improve Postsecondary Enrollment, Completion Among Rural Students

August 1, 2022

The University of Wyoming College of Education and the UW Trustees Education Initiative were awarded a three-year, $1.2 million grant to improve postsecondary enrollment and completion among rural students.

The grant is from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development Program.

UW will collaborate with College for Every Student (CFES) Brilliant Pathways to develop the UW High Altitude Pathway program to provide high school-age students and local community leaders with tools to improve enrollment and graduation rates among Wyoming’s rural students.

Wyoming has one of the lowest rates of postsecondary education enrollment in the U.S. Currently, nearly 52 percent of the state’s residents possess a postsecondary credential, such as a degree or certificate.

The UW High Altitude Pathway program will help reach goals -- set in 2018 by then-Gov. Matt Mead -- to increase the number of Wyoming residents who have completed some form of postsecondary education to 67 percent by 2025 and 82 percent by 2040.

Economic growth hinges on an educated population, and it is important for Wyoming citizens to gain the skills required for new jobs being created in manufacturing, skilled labor fields, health care, information technology and education. With a higher rate of postsecondary education completion, Wyoming will be able to strengthen the economy by attracting new businesses and jobs to the state.

Many rural students are first-generation students and face several challenges before they consider higher education as an option. These students must overcome additional obstacles to successfully complete their program, says Colby Gull, managing director of the UW Trustees Education Initiative, who is leading the program.

“First-generation students are often left without a support system to help them understand the processes required to apply for and pay for college,” Gull says. “The nomenclature of postsecondary education is like a foreign language for those whose parents did not attend college, and the entire experience can be seen as out of touch and out of reach.”

CFES and the UW High Altitude Pathway program want to clear those hurdles for students, their parents and the already existing social networks in their communities, he adds.

“The 10-point plan, College and Career Readiness Advisor training, and Essential Skills training are designed to help all stakeholders understand this new culture, new language and new process,” Gull says.

UW will partner with 10 public schools, alternative education centers and after-school programs throughout the state to implement the program, with the goal to impact 2,000 students. Partners will implement the 10-Point College and Career Readiness Objectives and present Essential Skills training developed by CFES Brilliant Pathways to students.

The training will help participants understand how to select an in-demand career that suits them; how to apply for postsecondary education; how to pay for their program; and how to get the most out of their experiences. Participants also will master soft skills such as leadership, communication and teamwork that will help them complete their program and enjoy success in their professional fields.

“CFES Brilliant Pathways’ expert guidance will provide Wyoming’s students with the skills and knowledge needed for college and career readiness,” says Scott Thomas, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the UW College of Education. “This initiative will help up to 2,000 rural students in Wyoming realize the opportunities postsecondary training can bring to their lives -- all while simultaneously stoking our state’s bright economic future through the cultivation of homegrown talent.”

In addition to helping students attain skills, CFES Brilliant Pathways’ College and Career Readiness Advisor training will be implemented at each location for school staff and local community leaders. The training helps leaders become trusted mentors who can use their knowledge about the college process to “help awaken” the possibility of higher education in their students.

“In many rural communities, the number of adults with a postsecondary degree is limited. We want to train those with degrees or certificates, and those who do not yet have a postsecondary degree, how to support students as they navigate enrolling and persisting in postsecondary training,” Gull says. “Students already have people in their communities who they know and trust. We can leverage these relationships so that everyone can be more successful in advancing their careers.”

A multiday event also is planned for summer 2023, where UW High Altitude Pathway participants will be invited to the UW campus to experience college life. The students’ costs of travel, housing and meals will be covered during the campus program.

During the summer event, participants will live in the residence halls and eat in the Washakie Dining Center while taking minicourses. They also will meet with representatives from the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Residence Life, Student Success and Graduation Hub, student organization leaders and faculty from programs they are interested in to expose them to the resources and support systems that can help them succeed in their journey at UW.

For more information, email Gull at colby.gull@uwyo.edu.

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