Efforts to increase post-secondary educational attainment of Wyoming citizens have received a significant boost, as the state has been chosen to participate in a task force that aims to lead the nation in developing policy and practice to close higher education attainment gaps.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) selected Wyoming, Utah and Arizona to be part of the Higher Education Task Force on Closing Postsecondary Attainment Gaps. That means Wyoming will receive consulting support over 20 months for development of a statewide educational attainment plan, along with $30,000 in annual funding to implement it.
The University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Community College Commission and the stateâ€™s seven community colleges submitted the proposal to WICHE on behalf of the state.
â€œWyoming set a high educational attainment goal. It is important to give every person the access to higher education,â€ Gov. Matt Mead says. â€œThe selection of Wyoming as a member of this task force gives us important additional resources. Our educational attainment goal is an important cornerstone for diversifying our economy.â€
The governor issued an executive order earlier this year calling for 67 percent of Wyomingâ€™s working-age population to hold post secondary certificates or degrees by 2025, increasing to 82 percent by 2040. Data from the Lumina Foundation show that 48 percent of Wyomingâ€™s citizens hold certificates or degrees.
â€œWyomingâ€™s future economic success requires that a higher percentage of its working population possess a postsecondary credential,â€ wrote Greg Hill, who chairs the governorâ€™s ENDOW (Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming) council, in support of the stateâ€™s proposal to WICHE. â€œParticipation in this task force will be transformative to the future of our state and has potential to change the lives of underrepresented students throughout Wyoming.â€
The initial meeting of the WICHE task force is May 15-16 in Westminster, Colo. Its objectives are to help the participating states develop action plans to close postsecondary attainment gaps; implement practices to increase retention, completion and employment outcomes for underrepresented students; and establish regional recommendations to close attainment gaps.
Wyomingâ€™s specific priorities are to:
— Develop a statewide plan to achieve its attainment goals, including a need-based financial aid program.
— Take steps toward developing a â€œcollege-goingâ€ culture in Wyoming, starting in K-12 schools.
— Find new ways to engage adults in higher education, as over 80,000 Wyoming adults have taken college courses but have no degrees, and 40,000 more have associate degrees but no bachelorâ€™s degrees.
â€œAchieving our very ambitious attainment goal requires support from all across the public and private sectors in the state, and WICHE has recognized this cross-sector commitment by accepting our proposal,â€ says UW President Laurie Nichols, who co-chairs the Wyoming educational attainment task force with Laramie County Community College President Joe Schaffer. â€œIâ€™m excited about the synergies to be found in working with the two other states, as well as the support weâ€™ll receive from WICHE to develop a policy agenda that will drive measurable change in our state.â€
Other members of the Wyoming task force are:
— Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
— Cindy DeLancey, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance and Wyoming Heritage Foundation.
— Mary Garland, president and chair of the John P. Ellbogen Foundation.
— Mary Kay Hill, policy director, governorâ€™s office.
— Shawn Reese, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council.
— Jerimiah Rieman, director of economic diversification, governorâ€™s office.
— Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission.
— Bill Schilling, ENDOW vice chair.
— State Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette.
— Mary Aguayo, UWâ€™s director of transfer relations, who wrote the proposal to WICHE.
The grant funding administered by WICHE comes from a $400,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation, a private foundation that works to make opportunities for learning beyond high school available for all. Established in 1953, WICHE is one of four regional interstate higher education compacts in the nation.