The state of Wyoming is demonstrating their commitment to higher education this month with the first ever community college summit. The summit, sponsored by the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees, drew educators from around the state to discuss the changing role of community colleges and the best ways to meet student needs in the future. The governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, was also on hand for the event, and addressed the gathering in regards to recent decisions made at the state level for community college and the importance of higher education for the state.
Summit Brings Colleges, Businesses Together
The Wyoming Community College Summit brought all seven of the state’s community colleges together and included more than 100 educators from those schools. The summit also saw participation from industry partners, business owners from the state who frequently hired community college graduates for their open positions. KWGN reports that these businessmen and women offered input into what their needs were in terms of employees.
“You’ll hear all of them today say, the community colleges are essential to their ability to hire and train productive employees and to grow their businesses,” Steve Bahmer, executive director for the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees, told KWGN.
The meeting between business owners and community college officials could pave the way for new programs at local community colleges, based on the changing needs of businesses in the state. This type of coordination between the business world and higher education has long been touted by Washington, business experts and community college leaders as one way to increase the quality of higher education across the country.
“As we look out into the future 10 years from now, we know that the nature of the job market is changing,” Bahmer explained to KWGN. We know the kinds of jobs our students will be seeking when they graduate, those kinds of jobs are changing.”
Bahmer adds that the addition of new programs could be the key to helping community colleges keep up with the changing needs of Wyoming industries.
“There are programs being developed here at LCCC and at other colleges throughout the state that really bode well for a student who may be already out of high school,” Jim Rose, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission told KWGN.
The Quest to Become a Leader
In their quest to make their community college system one of the leaders in the nation, Wyoming community college officials will need to address some major issues first. Rick LaPlant, a former Microsoft executive who is now a trustee at a Wyoming community college, told the Wyoming Business Report that high dropout rates in high school, as well as the need for remedial coursework at the college level, have greatly impacted the success of students at the community college level. Citing statistics that show the need for higher education in the workforce is increasing, LaPlant asserts that community colleges in Wyoming will need to meet these issues head-on if they are going to lead the way.
“We have a real issue here and on the other hand we have a huge opportunity in Wyoming to address this and be a leader in the nation, because of the state of our system and the state of our system is good,” LaPlant was reported to say in the Wyoming Business Report.
However, LaPlant added, “The path we are on will not get us there.”
Both LaPlant and Bahmer encouraged community college leaders to think and plan big for the future, if they truly wanted to lead the rest of the nation in higher education. They also stressed the need for creativity if community colleges were going to effectively plan for a future where they didn’t know what upcoming needs might look like.
“To lead is to live dangerously,” LaPlant told summit participants. “Because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what they hold dear – their daily habits, their tools, their loyalties and their ways of thinking – with nothing more to ask perhaps than the possibilities…”
Wyoming Governor Weighs in on Summit
Governor Matt Mead was also a speaker at the summit, updating college officials on budget recommendations and other ongoing projects of interest to community colleges across the state. The governor also emphasized the need for a robust community college system in Wyoming, noting in the Wyoming Business Report that two-thirds of all fifth graders today will require some sort of higher education. He also mentioned to the summit crowd that a recent business summit he attended emphasized the importance of education in preparing for economic development within the state.
“That is how important education is in Wyoming, and community colleges play a critical role in that,” Mead told the audience.
Despite the importance Mead placed on higher education, he acknowledged that his budget recommendations would not provide community colleges with everything they asked for in the upcoming year. However, Mead emphasized that the new budget proposal should provide colleges across the state necessary resources, and that the figures were done in collaboration with community college officials statewide.
Tuition Increases on the Way
In other state news, the Wyoming Community College Commission recently approved a tuition increase for state community colleges by a unanimous vote. According to the Billings Gazette, the increase will total $4 per credit hour for the 2012-2013 school year. Students who paid $1,704 in full-time tuition during the current school year will be paying $1,800 next year.