By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming and the state’s seven community colleges are launching a collaborative effort to better prepare Wyoming students for the state’s evolving economy and encourage entrepreneurship, officials announced Monday.
Gov. Mark Gordon, in a news conference with UW President Ed Seidel and presidents from the state’s community colleges, announced the launch of the Wyoming Innovation Network, a joint effort by all the schools to focus more on Wyoming’s economic needs.
“The economic challenges Wyoming is facing are going to require us to develop and deploy innovative solutions,” Gordon said. “It is critical to have this coordinated effort from our state’s institutions of higher education.”
Under the WIN program, community colleges and UW will work to align courses to prepare students for industries that will need skilled workers in the future, such as tourism, advanced manufacturing and digital technology, Gordon said.
He added by working together, the schools will also help students become entrepreneurs and help make Wyoming more attractive to new businesses by making sure they have access to a skilled workforce.
“Our goal is a unified effort that will help launch this economic development as well as strengthen our economy and help our workers succeed here in Wyoming,” Gordon said.
The initiative will also look at ways to increase the availability of higher education to students who might not be otherwise able to access it, perhaps through digital means, he said.
The effort will require the UW and community colleges to develop closer relationships with private industry, Seidel said, both to determine what skills employers need and to seek financial support for the effort.
Seidel and the presidents of the community college have already formed a working group which will meet regularly to determine how to move forward with items such as making educational programs align and making sure community college students have access to the university.
Darren Divine, president of Casper College, pointed out the university and community colleges are already working along those lines, such as with the development of a bachelor’s degree in applied science and the bachelor’s of science in nursing.
In addition, a program announced Monday will allow community college students to know exactly how their college credits will apply should they attend the UW, Divine said.
“The community colleges and the university are very cohesive and aligned more now than ever before,” he said. “This new effort will enhance Wyoming’s ability to meet the challenges created by our current economic environment.”
There will be a cost connected to the effort, Gordon said, but he said his direction to the presidents was to look at what could be done and then perhaps look to sources other than the state for at least part of the funding.
“Then comes the part of how do we raise the funds,” he said. “We’ve got to reach out to the private sector. That’s something that Wyoming is going to have to do more of. We can’t depend entirely on the (legislative” block grant, on what the Legislature does.
“What is important here is a new direction in a way to collaborate among our institutions, to work from the ground up,” he said. “As money comes its direction, as it proves its worth, then more investment will result in more success.”