Efforts to keep WyoTech open in Laramie continue to gain momentum as a private party enters the stage with a proposal to purchase the institution and continue courses with a for-profit model.
Jim Mathis, a former WyoTech student, instructor and president, said he drafted a proposal to acquire the WyoTech Laramie campus and presented it to the Education Credit Management Corporation, which owns several nonprofit colleges nationwide including WyoTech.
“I bleed WyoTech blood,” Mathis said. “I started off as a student at WyoTech and was teaching there by 19 years old. I became the campus president in 1996, and left in 2002 when it was sold to Corinthian (Colleges). Anything I can do to help this community and WyoTech — I want to do it.”
While he did not reveal the details of the deal, Mathis’ potential acquisition of the school could be aided by a $5 million low-interest loan from the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account.
Senate File No. 1 included a section regarding a school fitting WyoTech’s description and geographical location without naming WyoTech specifically.
The section would allow Gov. Matt Mead and the Wyoming Business Council “to solicit proposals for the continued operation of an automotive technology trade school.”
Additionally, the bill grants Mead the ability to approve a $5 million grant or loan for either a private entity or a community college to cover costs for WyoTech’s first year of operation. Approved by both the House and Senate, SF No. 1 is currently awaiting Mead’s signature.
“We did not initiate that,” Mathis said. “I know a lot of people may think we requested the Legislature add that in there, but we were called over by the legislators for an interview and were just as surprised as anybody.”
Laramie County Community College has also presented a proposal for absorbing WyoTech into its curriculum after the Education Credit Management Corporation closes the institution’s doors in June. For the community college to take over WyoTech, LCCC President Joe Schaffer previously said the city of Laramie and Albany County would need to provide the campus about $750,000 annually.
Mathis said his proposal would not require a financial commitment from local governments.
“When Jim was president, I felt like the business lended itself to the private for-profit model,” said Tim Stamp, a former Laramie Economic Development Corporation president who is assisting Mathis with the proposal.
Mathis added, “That was my initial concern with this proposal. We were told by local sources that (Education Credit Management Corporation) was not open to for-profit proposals, but we reached out to the CEO and he said he would work with anybody right now.”
While Mathis’ proposal competes with LCCC’s, he said it would not have been possible without them.
“If it wasn’t for LCCC doing all the work to keep this alive, neither of us would’ve ended up with this,” Mathis said.
With the help of another investor, he said he was able to raise the initial funding for the proposal and create a five-year plan for WyoTech’s future.
“We are not in this thing to build it up and sell it,” Mathis said. “We want to look at this long-term and make sure it’s sustainable for the community, the industry, WyoTech, the students and all who are involved.”
He did not name the other investor, but said the investor was a Wyoming resident.
In the next five years, Mathis said he would like WyoTech to staff about 200 full-time employees and enroll about 1,100 students annually. The school would also continue its legacy of volunteerism throughout the community, he said.
Mathis’ proposal is currently being reviewed by Education Credit Management Corporation and would need the Wyoming Business Council’s recommendation before being eligible for the LSRA loan.
“(Education Credit Management Corporation) hasn’t given us approval yet, but we’re pretty optimistic about the deal,” Mathis said.
Stamp said WyoTech needs Mathis’ drive to ensure the school not only remains open but returns to its years as an education powerhouse in the for-profit world.
“That ability to move quickly, adjust your curriculum, know how to market to the right students that fit the culture and fit the identity of WyoTech is a critical component that (Mathis) brings to the table,” he said.