‘An ambitious goal’

The University of Wyoming Board of Trustees endorsed a resolution that seeks to drastically increase the percentage of the state population holding post-secondary degrees throughout the next several years.

The resolution, passed during the board’s Nov. 16 meeting, aims to diversify the state economy, improve quality of life and reach out, specifically, to traditionally underserved student populations.

Degree- or certificate-holding Wyomingites currently represent 46 percent of the state population, said Mary Aguayo, who has worked with enrollment at UW in a variety of roles and now serves as director of transfer relations at the new Transfer Success Center.

“The goal itself — which was jointly adopted by all eight public college presidents in October — states that 60 percent of the working population 25-64 years old should possess a valuable post-secondary credential, either a degree or certificate by 2025.”

The resolution also sets a goal of 75 percent by 2040.

“Further, a significant focus of this goal must be reducing disparities and achievement gaps among underserved student populations, including first-generation, low-income, minority and adult students,” the resolution states.

Higher educational attainment is broadly defined as any meaningful post-secondary achievement that significantly boosts an individual’s employability, Aguayo said.

“This is not a traditional bachelor’s degree, this is not even an associate’s degree,” she said. “It could be a mine safety certificate, which many of our community college partners tell us is absolutely what the employers are looking for in their industries.”

While Wyoming is third in the nation for percent of population with a high school diploma, the state is ranked 40th for percent of population with a bachelor’s degree, according to the American Community Survey.

The resolution looks to raise quality of life by developing a more educated population. Low-income individuals, in particular, could be helped by this initiative, said Jim Rose, Community College Commission executive director.

“We know that this is a really, really ambitious goal, but we have to set the target at a place where it’s going to mean something,” he said. “This population may benefit more than any other sector simply because they’re not living the good life, and education is literally the pathway for them to do that.”

Board Vice President Dave True said he worried the 2025 goal — which seeks a 2-percent raise every year — might discourage progress if the state starts to achieve less.

“I don’t want to be argumentative but in seven years, to move that needle that dramatically may be unrealistic,” True said. “I understand the need — I don’t question that — but it almost feels like we’re setting ourselves up to miss.”

UW President Laurie Nichols responded that establishing the goal was critical for the future and well-being of the state.

“There’s no question that this is an ambitious goal but, quite honestly, Wyoming needs it,” she said.

“So, if Wyoming is going to endorse ENDOW and if we’re going to diversify the economy, we’ve got to do something about higher education in this state because we’re very low ... Other states have attainment goals and they’re moving the mark. So, if we don’t we’ll fall further behind.”

The next step is to develop a timeline with help from the Lumina Foundation — a private organization dedicated to increasing access to and success in post-secondary education.

The board will receive annual updates on progress made, according to the presentation made by Nichols, Rose and Aguayo.

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