CHEYENNE (AP) — Opposition from top University of Wyoming officials didn’t prevent state lawmakers from advancing legislation Friday that would allow community colleges to offer certain bachelor’s degrees.
The bill would enable Wyoming’s seven community college districts to offer programs like an applied bachelor’s of science degree in nursing or electrical engineering, though specific programs would still need case-by-case approval if the bill became law.
Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss, a state senator from the same district as Wyoming’s only four-year university, cast the lone ‘no’ vote when the bill passed out of committee. He said the idea needed more study after the legislative session ends in March.
People with more education tend to earn more, yet Wyoming ranks toward the bottom of U.S. states for the share of its residents with bachelor’s degrees, said bill sponsor Sen. Tara Nethercott, a Cheyenne Republican.
Neighboring states with booming economies, such as Colorado and Utah, offer bachelor’s of applied science programs, Nethercott told lawmakers.
“This is about the economy. This is about providing a skilled workforce,” Nethercott said.
Other proponents include the Wyoming Association of Community College Trustees and business leaders who said they need more well-trained employees.
“We have 10 percent of our workforce that commute from Colorado because they have degrees,” said Kim Withers, chief executive officer of Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union, which has two branches in Cheyenne. “That’s great — they are very qualified people — but they go home at night to Colorado.”
Offering such programs at community colleges would duplicate programs already offered through the University of Wyoming including those in which students attend two years at a Wyoming community college and two at the university, President Laurie Nichols told lawmakers.
“At a time when our state is talking about efficiency and streamlining, this would do the exact opposite,” Nichols said.
University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kate Miller also testified against the bill, saying the university already is working with community colleges to provide more educational opportunities.
The bill must clear two more votes before advancing to the House.