SHERIDAN — Tourism and recreation could become even larger aspects of Wyoming’s economy in the future due to an additional field of study offered by the University of Wyoming.
The UW board of trustees voted last month to approve a new outdoor recreation and tourism management degree, which will begin in fall 2018. The program incorporates classes from the university’s college of business and school of environment and natural resources. Eleven new courses will be offered, and students will then pick a concentration area from five options: business and hospitality management; management of recreation resources; cultural and international tourism; outdoor recreation leadership; and creative studies in recreation and tourism.
Around 55 universities in the country offer similar degrees, including the University of Montana-Western, the University of Idaho, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Colorado State University.
Sheridan Travel and Tourism executive director Shawn Parker is excited about the new degree but isn’t yet sure how it will affect communities around the state, including Sheridan.
“I just don’t know what that’s going to mean long term,” Parker said. “Hopefully we get to generate some tourism leaders that stay in the state.”
Sheridan Recreation District director Richard Wright is looking forward to the opportunities it will afford the rec district, which is always looking for seasonal, full- and part-time employees. He added that the rec district hires 60 to 70 summer employees every year, so the degree could help fill those roles.
“This degree will be awesome because it will basically grab kids looking for a career in parks and recreation and tourism,” Wright said. “We’ve imported a lot of people to this area, so why aren’t we training our own people? If we’ve got people here locally who are certified and schooled in it, at least they can be part of the staff.”
Wright said the program could also attract students looking for something different to study in school.
“If you got kids that really like sports, activities and the outdoors, this degree would be perfect for them,” Wright said. “If they like to fish and be outside, it’s a great job.”
According to Statista, travel and tourism directly contributed approximately 5.3 million jobs to the United States economy in 2017. In Wyoming in 2016, visitor spending generated $171 million in local and state tax revenues, and the state’s tourism industry supported 31,770 full- and part-time jobs, the second-most of any industry in the state. Parker said tourism still has plenty of room to grow, and the new degree means the University of Wyoming is taking tourism and recreation expansion seriously. Indeed, UW plans to eventually hire several additional faculty members and grow the program from 50 students in the first year to 150 by the fourth year.
Wright said some program graduates may move to Colorado, where the pay is better, but he hopes they stay in Wyoming.
“That’s going to be the important thing,” Parker said. “We don’t want anybody to do this program and move to Colorado or move to California. We want them to stay home.”
Parker said he heard rumors a little more than a year ago about the program beginning, so it came together pretty quickly. Neither he nor Wright were directly involved with the planning of the new degree.
The new degree may not directly impact Sheridan County immediately, but the state continues to grow in the tourism and outdoor recreation sectors.