The University of Wyoming and state community colleges want at least 60 percent of Wyoming citizens age 25 and older to have a meaningful college degree by 2025.
That number currently stands around 35 percent — a long way to go.
To achieve that lofty goal, community colleges around the state hope to attract nontraditional students and high school students with other options, like Anastasia Beutler, a junior at Tongue River High School. Beutler intends to join the military but is interested in studying welding afterward.
Beutler received a glimpse of what that may look like at the second annual Demo Day, held Wednesday at Sheridan College.
She was one of about 135 high school juniors and seniors from Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota in attendance, including students from four Sheridan County high schools. Students rotated through six different programs during the day: welding, diesel technology, machining, construction, computer sciences and culinary arts.
The welding tour — which took place in newer portions of the tech center — made a positive first impression on Beutler, who enjoyed the hands-on portion of the 50-minute session.
“I love it,” Beutler said about welding. “It’s really fun. It’s creating something.”
Beutler has already taken welding courses at TRHS for two years and will enroll in a welding class for college credit during her senior year.
For TRHS junior Nathaniel Stephens, Demo Day served more as a reminder of what he already knew. Stephens taught himself to code and will likely attend Sheridan College to study computer science. Computer science wasn’t part of last year’s Demo Day but was added this year, along with culinary arts.
There aren’t any high school coding courses offered at TRHS, but Stephens might utilize the dual enrollment program next year to take a computer science course through the college.
Many area schools already offer some type of computer science class, and a bill recently passed by the Legislature that adds computer science and computational thinking to the state’s education requirements should help students like Stephens expand their knowledge. Sheridan College computer science instructor Mark Thoney thinks the bill will guide more students to careers in the field.
Ideally for Wyoming, the increase in college graduates will lead to more opportunities in the state. However, finding local jobs is easier in some industries than others.
Beutler wants to work in a rural area after school, preferably in the western part of the country. Sheridan College welding instructor Tim Anderson said there is a shortage of labor supply in the welding industry, so a student like Beutler shouldn’t have much trouble finding a job.
“I haven’t met a student that graduated with a welding degree that couldn’t get a job in welding,” Anderson said. “Sometimes they have to move to get that job, but the jobs are there if they want to go to work and are willing to work.”
Stephens wants to do something related to coding and would like to stay in Wyoming after college as well. That work could prove tougher to find than a welding position, though. Thoney said for a student like Stephens, the jobs are mainly outside of the area. Thoney added that it is fairly common for students to move away and work for several years at an entry- or mid-level job and then move back to Sheridan County and work remotely at a higher-paying position.
Beutler and Stephens exemplify the types of students many colleges aim to attract, and events like Demo Day could help push Wyoming toward that 60 percent goal.