Providing funding for nontraditional students

If education is the great equalizer, things are getting more equal for some nontraditional students in Johnson County and around the state.

As part of former Gov. Matt Mead’s Economically Needed Diversity Options for Wyoming (ENDOW) initiatives, and his call last year for 67% of the adult population to have some type of higher education by 2025, the Wyoming Works program went into effect July 1.

Wyoming Works will distribute $5 million to the state’s community colleges over the next two years – $3 million in direct student grants, with the remaining $2 million to be used by the seven schools to purchase equipment and to hire instructors. Sheridan College’s portion of the funding will be about $300,000 annually to be used for student grants.

Wyoming Works will provide a maximum $1,680 per semester in grant funding for a maximum of six semesters to send qualifying Wyomingites to college in the state. To be eligible for Wyoming Works funding, potential students must meet financial need criteria and be residents of Wyoming.

They also can’t currently be eligible for or receiving Hathaway Act education funding, and they can’t be in default on other types of student educational loans. The Wyoming Works grants are equivalent to the Hathaway Act scholarships, said Leah Barrett, vice president for student affairs for Sheridan College.

For Johnson County residents, that means some of the courses currently available at the Sheridan College in Johnson County campus in Buffalo are eligible for Wyoming Works funding, said Derek Andrews, director of the local campus, which is housed in the Bomber Mountain Civic Center. One program offered locally trains students to become certified nursing assistants.

And CNA training is on the list of eligible programs, Andrews said. He’s also looking into whether other programs, including emergency medical technician training and a substitute teacher training course, would also qualify for Wyoming Works funds.

“With Wyoming Works, it’s so new, we’re just trying to get everything figured out,” Andrews said. “The more programs we can get under it will be super beneficial. We’re still in the beginning stages of it.”

Several of the eligible programs are only offered on the main Sheridan College campus, due to requirements for space and resources. Even if they’re not offered in Buffalo, though, qualified Johnson County residents can enjoy the benefits of Wyoming Works funding for any eligible course or program.

“Initially, this will benefit students in the CNA program,” Andrews said. “And it will benefit Johnson County residents who are going for any of those programs at the main campus.

“This means an opportunity to further themselves, to further their career, to further their education at a cost that’s not going to be prohibitive, which it may have been in the past. Cost is a prohibitive factor in everything and this could negate that.”

Andrea Morgan, administrative coordinator for Barrett, said Monday that roughly 25 students who could potentially benefit from the Wyoming Works grants travel from Johnson County to Sheridan each school year. That’s an average that can vary annually, she said.

High school students on concurrent enrollment made up the largest percentage of students on the Buffalo campus in fall 2018, at more than half, or 153 of the total 263 enrollment, Andrews said. Students in the 18-19-year-old age group comprised 26 of those 263 students.

But it’s the so-called “nontraditional” students – not someone straight out of high school heading right to higher education – in the 30-64-year-old age group, who make up the second-largest block on the Buffalo campus, with 73 enrolled in fall 2018, he said. And they’re the ones who’ll benefit the most from the Wyoming Works grants.

“This will fit those students who don’t fit the traditional thing, the right out of high school to college,” Andrews said. “There’s all those things (for financial aid) for high school students, the Hathaway eligible. This fills that void.”

Total Sheridan College enrollment averages 1,500 students per semester in all programs, Barrett said.

And Sheridan College is currently working on additional programs, Barrett said. Right now, all the programs on the eligible list are degree-seeking programs, she said. In the future – perhaps as soon as October – non-degree programs and even individual classes will be added to the eligibility list for Wyoming Works.

Wyoming Works “is really going to help adults return to college or attend college for the first time, to set them up for their future career,” Barrett said. “This is a great opportunity for individuals to get engaged in higher education.”

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