By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols has pushed back on a bill that would authorize community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. Individual programs would need to be approved by the Wyoming Community College Commission.
That bill was docketed as Senate File 111 late on Wednesday and is sponsored by Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne.
Forty-five of the 90 state legislators are co-sponsors of the bill. None of Albany County’s delegates have signed onto the bill.
Even before the bill was introduced, Nichols discouraged the proposal in her testimony to the Joint Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.
“I would really encourage you to allow the university to be the provider of bachelor’s degrees in the state,” she said. “One of the things well-known in this country is that Wyoming has higher education set up right.”
Citing her experience in South Dakota, Nichols suggested it’s not sustainable for states with small populations to have multiple institutions offering bachelor’s degrees.
South Dakota “has six state universities that it tries to support, and it struggles every day,” she said in her JAC testimony. Prior to being hired as UW’s President in 2016, Nichols had worked in South Dakota universities for more than two decades. She served as provost of South Dakota State from 2009 to 2016.
Nichols said a better structure for Wyoming would before UW to be the provider of bachelor’s degrees at community colleges, turning some colleges’ instructor into UW adjunct professors.
“I will sit with every community college president to deliver bachelor’s of applied science or bachelor’s degrees as they need them to address workforce needs in their community,” she said.
Having UW run the programs, she said, would also prevent colleges from having to offer new required general education courses already provided by the university.
“If the community colleges staff up to do that, you’ve just created duplication,” she said.
Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, co-chairs JAC and said it would be more financially prudent for the colleges to run certain programs.
“It will cost a lot more money to offer certain applied degrees if it goes through UW,” he told Nichols. “You have to pay your instructors more. The whole program costs more and it takes a lot longer to start up and run because of the mechanics of UW. And there are certain things you just don’t want to do. I would submit that there are certain baccalaureate programs that you aren’t interested in.”
Nicholas said it would be more appropriate for the colleges to handle some degrees, like a bachelor’s in welding, that don’t “really fit in the bailiwick of UW.”
“Certainly, the Legislature is not to give UW a whole bunch more money for a 15-student baccalaureate program on every campus because it would be three times more expensive than if the community colleges did it,” he said.
Nethercott’s bill would also amend state statute concerning Hathaway scholarship eligibility. Currently, Hathaway scholarships are only available to community college students for four semesters.
The legislation would allow community college students to use Hathaway for eight semesters if they’re enrolled in a baccalaureate program.
Nicholas suggested Tuesday there could be other bills introduced that would also open up degree offerings at the colleges.
“These bills are coming, and these community colleges have tremendous support, at least in the House,” he said.
In the bill's fiscal note, the Legislative Service Office states the cost of SF 111 is "indeterminable."
"The WCCC indicates community colleges would not start offering baccalaureate degree programs until January 2022 at the earliest due to accreditation and program approval processes," the fiscal note states. "The WCCC estimates a community college would experience both increased tuition revenue and increased expenditures as a result of offering baccalaureate degree programs, however, the amounts are indeterminable. The WCCC also indicates increased expenditures in the form of additional state aid in the WCCC’s standard budget due to college enrollment for baccalaureate degree programs. However, this expenditure increase is indeterminable.”