SHERIDAN — Northern Wyoming Community College District Board President Walter Tribley announced that the college will pursue approval for an applied baccalaureate degree in management and leadership with an emphasis in either business or industrial technology at the NWCCD Board of Trustees’ November meeting.

Tribley submitted a draft resolution to the board and asked that they consider it at their Dec. 12 meeting. If the resolution is approved, the college will then begin developing the curriculum.

“Four-year degrees will float all boats in our state,” Tribley said. “They will help the University of Wyoming, they’ll help our citizens, they’ll help our business, and we have a real good opportunity to help the people in our district achieve.”

Should the Board of Trustees approve the resolution, the resolution will be forwarded to the Wyoming Community College Commission in February to request permission to seek the change from the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the college.

“Mainly what they look at is the capacity of the institution,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Estella Castillo-Garrison said. “As an institution we want to be ready for our students in all of our advising and pathways [to the degree programs].”

The March 2019, legislation authorizing AB degrees at community colleges limits offerings to two degree programs per college.

Asked whether the proposed program would count as one or two degrees, Tribley said “We’re hoping it gets counted as one.”

Wyoming’s colleges will have to coordinate admissions, and especially transfer, processes to adapt to the changes.

“One of the things that will happen here in Wyoming is that it really will set a new bar for what a student-friendly admissions-transfer process looks like,” Tribley said. “We’re already talking at the president’s level about how we’re going to be accepting each other’s students that don’t finish.”

The final approval step will be for the U.S. Department of Education to grant students financial aid eligibility for the program. A press release from NWCCD estimates that the entire process will take 15-18 months. Tribley said that the Fall 2021 semester would be the earliest date students could potentially enroll in the programs.

“So right now it’s about our anticipated programs — what are our needs and our assessment of the needs of our community,” Castillo-Garrison said. “There’s these momentum points of the process to make sure that we have the conversations on our campus, that we have administrative support, that we have board support and that we’re able to move forward.”

The WCCC defines a Bachelor of Applied Science degree as “a four year applied baccalaureate degree with an emphasis in advanced technical training and professional management skills.”

The college selected management and leadership after forming an Academic Review Workgroup and Applied Baccalaureate Steering Committee. The Workgroup consisted largely of faculty members and administrators who conducted surveys of students and community members beginning in May 2019.

Castillo-Garrison said the Workgroup sought feedback from more than 90 advisory committee and industry partners that regularly provide feedback to the college for different measures.

Castillo-Garrison said conversations with community members focused primarily on the types of programs that would be most beneficial and the number of employees that they anticipate may be interested in enrolling in the program.

Fifty of the 90 industry partners surveyed responded that they would be willing to support employees with scholarships or release time and 21 others said they would possibly be willing. Forty-nine said they planned to hire new employees with four-year degrees in the next three years.

The resolution also reports that “the majority of students enrolled in an applied associate degree program at NWCCD indicated they would be interested in pursuing a four-year degree at NWCCD if the right opportunity were available.” Three-hundred and eighty-five students in applied programs were surveyed.

The Workgroup agreed offering a single program with two tracks was optimal because it anticipated overlapping course requirements and will concentrate faculty in the common courses.

Castillo-Garrison said school districts were involved in the fact-finding process as well.

The Workgroup met on Oct. 8 and then submitted its findings to the steering committee, which forwarded its own recommendations and those of the Workgroup to Tribley.

The steering committee consists of Castillo-Garrison, Assistant Vice President for Strategic Communications Wendy Smith, Executive Director of Sheridan College Foundation Jennifer Crouse, Vice President of Gillette College Janell Oberlander and Vice President of Student Affairs Leah Barrett. Castillo-Garrison said Dean of Career and Technical Education Jed Jensen and Executive Director of Gillette College Foundation Heidi Gross were also closely involved.

Among its future considerations, the Workgroup recommends clarifying prerequisites for upper-division courses, identifying quantitative course requirements, determining whether programs will be offered in-person, online or in hybrid fashion and aligning the program with the requirements for progression into Master of Business Administration programs.

Castillo-Garrison said considerations of possible increased costs and faculty needs as a result of the programs will come later in the process of curriculum development.

Tribley and Castillo-Garrison cautioned it’s too early in the process for prospective students to make decisions based on projected programs.

“It’s very important for the Higher Learning Commission that we don’t get too far in front — that our messaging doesn’t say that this is what we’re doing — because we haven’t been approved,” Castillo-Garrison said.

“The only thing we really want to hear (from the resolution next month) is more complete information about the program itself, but we’re very supportive, very supportive of the program,” NWCCD Chair Norleen Healy said.