Governor initiative uses community colleges to diversify economy

President Dr. Joe Schaffer spoke at the Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming Executive Council meeting on Jan. 25 at Laramie County Community College and gave recommendations how Wyoming needs to utilize post-secondary education as a way of diversifying the state’s economy.

ENDOW’s assessment on education said that, in terms of percentages, Wyoming graduates fewer students with bachelor’s degrees than its peer states or the nation. It also said that educational readiness and achievement needs improvement from preschool through post-secondary education.

Schaffer presented six recommendations at the meeting that involved ways the state and community colleges can support the workforce.

One of the recommendations Schaffer discussed was that Wyoming needs to create financial aid solely for the adult population who have only earned a high school diploma or less. To ask working adults to put their income toward educations is asking a lot, but if Wyoming were able to provide financial to the adult population, then it would give them an incentive to receive post-secondary education, Schaffer said.

Another recommendation from Schaffer involved Wyoming looking into the concept of having flat-rate tuition for nonresident students in order to bring more people in to the state. Schaffer also said that the ENDOW council needs to provide information to the community colleges in order for the college to prepare workers’ needs for the Wyoming economy. This will help guide colleges to create programs that will produce workers who will help carry out ENDOW’s diversification agenda.

Apprenticeships, internships, mentorships, certification and licensing programs are being analyzed by the Council in order to bring more people into the Wyoming workforce. Employers told Council members that Wyoming can do more to educate its youth about life skills such as: teamwork, leadership and financial literacy.

In November of 2016, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead created the ENDOW initiative to expand the economy of Wyoming.

“Actions that must be implemented now include opportunities to grow and diversify our education and workforce training opportunities, improve our infrastructure and develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that nurtures and retain Wyoming talent,” ENDOW Chairman Greg Hill wrote in the preliminary recommendations news release.

Within the assessment, the council said that the University of Wyoming and the seven community colleges are going to be vital resources to help provide “cutting-edge” training to the workforce to in reaction to the changing economy of Wyoming. The Wyoming workforce was said to be contributing less to its own economy compared to peer states and the nation.

The Executive Council of ENDOW released a preliminary recommendations news release on Jan. 2 after spending eight months meeting with Wyoming communities, businesses and stakeholders.
According to ENDOW’s socioeconomic assessment, submitted Aug. 30, 2017 to Mead and the Joint Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Interim Committee, 70 percent of Wyoming revenue comes from the energy and mineral industry, which means that Wyoming’s economy is determined by the demand of energy commodities.

Between 2009 and 2016, policy makers at the state level had several short-term drops in revenue that foreshadowed a decline in Wyoming’s dependent markets, according to the 2017 assessment. The decline began in 2015 and by the end of the 2016 fiscal year, Wyoming’s revenue had dropped 32 percent.

The assessment also explained that Wyoming has also been experiencing a decreasing population and unemployment rate. However, the assessment said that the “most compelling concern” for Wyoming’s future success is funding for K-12 education, which has seen an estimated $250 million cut per year.

In ENDOW’s preliminary recommendations to Mead and the Wyoming State Legislature, the Council summarized from the assessment and focused on four areas which include: infrastructure, education, workforce training and entrepreneurial development.

From those four areas, the Council made 10 recommendations that entails a $36 million funding request.

A few of those recommendations involve providing equal opportunities for students to learn computer science, improving higher education attainment and retention of graduates, and distributing resources for workforce training.

Mead says in the ENDOW Initiative that the point of the project is to not simply make economic plans for the next decade, but for decades to come.

“Diversifying Wyoming’s economy for the long term is no easy task, but it is the most pressing challenge we face,” Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout said.


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