Landmark for CWC

Apr 3, 2020 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher

Almost lost, unfortunately, in the jangle over coronavirus has been a ground-breaking accomplishment by Central Wyoming College.

Following many months of planning, practical preparation, and rigorous evaluation from outside examiners, the college has been approved to start offering bachelor's degrees.

This is a landmark achievement, ranking with the most important things CWC has ever attempted, much less completed.

From day one, starting with its founding in 1966, CWC has been a two-year institution, offering and conferring the associate's degree as its educational basis, along with numerous certificate programs. Now, however, the college can award for-your bachelors degrees within a carefully defined and academically limited scope.

Specifically, the diploma carries the term bachelor of applied science. As created by CWC, two BAS degrees will be offered, one in tribal leadership, the other in entrepreneurial training.

They are intended to address what college planners identified as specific needs and desires of the local student body. CWC is the first of Wyoming's seven community college is to complete the BAS process.

The college has started many academic programs through the years, but creating a four-year degree track is much different from the familiar two-year course.

A bachelor's degree requires a much higher volume of coursework, naturally, but the classes also must present a more demanding level of work as well, taking the students on a progressively more difficult road toward the degree.

In turn, that requires more of college faculty as well, as the instructors must both master new material, and teach and evaluate students across a longer and deeper educational progression.

These transitions can't be made overnight. With higher-ups looking over their shoulders throughout the process, CWC academic leaders developed the concept of the degree, devised the academic requirements needed for a bachelor's, then built the individual classes that would educate the students at the higher level of knowledge and practical application.

Along the way, the college meshed the new BAS courses with existing CWC offerings to complete the bigger, well-rounded academic package that typifies a bachelor's degree.

Required approval from the federal Higher Learning Commission was far from guaranteed. Evaluators checked on CWC's plans and progress several times throughout the process, including making on-campus visits not just to look at the paperwork, but to meet and question administrators, faculty, students and trustees -- all to ensure that the BAS plan was well-developed, well-intentioned and well-supported by the college community.

The time has come to deliver. Beginning in the fall semester, the first four-year degree candidates will begin work at Central Wyoming College. They will blaze a trail for students both here and at other community colleges in Wyoming which have looked from the beginning at CWC's effort before embarking on the BAS process themselves. Whatever the other colleges do, CWC always will be the first.

This is the farthest from a vanity project for the college. Changes in the educational landscape have led to decreasing enrollment at many community colleges, and outside pressures have added critical incentives for the colleges to attract more students and keep them enrolled and progressing toward college degrees.

CWC leaders are firm in their belief that the new BAS program will address all of those new challenges, drawing students who envision a four-year stay at the college while working toward a new degree in a which interests and inspires them. That means more enrollment, progress toward a degree, and consistent tuition payments to the college over a longer enrollment period.

To the public eye, most of CWC's marquee achievements through the decades have been the completion of new buildings on campus -- the first two structures in the 1960s, the gymnasium and activities center a few years after that, the first college housing, the magnificent arts center, the Main Hall expansion, expanded housing, the vocational ed center, the versatile ITEC facility, the new CWC Lander Center, expansion at Sinks Canyon, and the landmark McFarland Health and Science Center.

But the launch of the bachelor of applied science program stands on equal ground with those brick-and-mortar accomplishments. It sets our college on a new and wider course of education, with firm footing at its base and more branches at its top. Of the many milestones that have marked our college's progress across seven decades, this ranks with the best of them.

Central Wyoming College has a habit of making Fremont County proud. With the new BAS program ready to roll, it's done it again.

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