By Katie Roenigk
Via Wyoming News Exchange
RIVERTON — Legislators speaking in support of a bill that authorized new academic programs at community colleges in Wyoming said it would be OK if the change results in an increased expense for the state.
Senate File 111 – now Senate Enrolled Act 80 – allows community colleges to offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. The BAS is a bachelor’s degree focused on career and technical education, offering additional credentials to students who have a two-year Associate of Applied Science.
In previous reports, Central Wyoming College president Brad Tyndall said the most common BAS is a degree in organization leadership and management that would allow someone with a vocational degree to advance in his industry. Costs Lawmakers wary of the proposal said they didn’t know how much it would cost, offering amendments to monitor the new programs, or limit the number of BAS degrees each college could offer. Those ideas failed, as did an amendment proposal from Wyoming Rep. Albert Sommers, RPinedale, that would have required that the BAS programs not incur any costs to the state.
Lawmakers who spoke against Sommers’ proposal noted that the BAS only will require more money from the state if the program attracts enough students to require recalibration of the community college funding model based on enrollments. They added that such a situation would represent a good outcome.
“What happens if this program becomes extremely successful, and we have people becoming extremely involved and excited about going to these programs?” Wyoming Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne, asked the House. “Well then we sit there and we hear, ‘You’re not going to get additional money from the state. Figure it out on your own.’ Is that really the message we want to send?”
Another amendment that failed would have barred funding for BAS programs from being incorporated into the state’s allocation model for community colleges.
Opponents of that proposal said it would be too difficult for community colleges to separate out the costs for their BAS programs, which may utilize instructors, advisors, facilities and other resources that already are incorporated into the state funding model.
Others resisted the general idea that the state shouldn’t contribute to the cost of the BAS.
“I think all of this discussion of the cost of this program is neglecting the benefits it’s going to provide for our communities, our industry and our people,” Wyoming Rep. Tim Hallinan, R-Gillette, said. “They need the education, and we need to pay for it.”
One amendment that did pass Feb. 25 requires the WCCC report annually on the status of the BAS programs, including the financial impacts to the community colleges and the state.
Part of an amendment proposal Wyoming Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, introduced specified the types of BAS programs community colleges should consider offering, including health care provider programs, career and technical education training programs, and a baccalaureate program in education, specifically at Central Wyoming College and “right next to our Indian reservation.”
Harshman said CWC used to offer a baccalaureate program that he would like to see re-established in order to address issues of teacher turnover on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Wyoming Rep. Andi Clifford, D-Fort Washakie, responded to his mention of the reservation, saying that Wyoming’s tribes have taken their own actions to find teachers for reservation students.
“We’ve moved on,” she said. “We want programs in tribal leadership. …That’s what we want now.”
Wyoming Rep. Lloyd Larsen, RLander, said he was surprised at Clifford’s comments since, in his opinion, the current program on the reservation has not met the need for tribal educators. He also stressed that SF 111 will result in an increase in costs for community colleges.
“That’s always been the concern,” he said. “How (do) we pay for the cost of this? … I don’t want to buy a new car I can’t afford down the road.”
Wyoming Rep. David Miller, RRiverton, spoke in favor of SF 111, pointing to the logistical problems many rural residents face when seeking a four-year degree.
“It has been this way for a long time, and it has hurt economic development,” he said. “Businesses have to recruit out-of-state to get these kids with four-year degrees.”
Miller, Clifford, Wyoming Rep. Tim Salazar, R-Dubois, and Wyoming Rep. John Winter, RThermopolis, all voted for SF 111 on third reading Wednesday. Larsen voted against it, as did Wyoming Sen. Cale Case, RLander, who offered one of only two “nay” votes when SF 111 left the Senate last month.
“It is a money issue for me,” he said in an e-mail with The Ranger. “People are acting like we are out of the fiscal woods. Not true!”
Wyoming Sen. Eli Bebout, RRiverton, and Wyoming Sen. Wyatt Agar, R-Thermopolis, both voted for the file.