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Plenty of options for advanced educational opportunities in Wyoming

The following article is from Casper Star Tribune.

Looking to shape your future? Wyomingites have no shortage of options when it comes to pursuing a degree or career.

Community colleges

Seven state community colleges give students opportunity to obtain associate degrees. Western Wyoming Community College, founded in 1959, offers 60 different associate degrees plus certificate programs related to the oil and gas industry, said Erin Grey, director of admissions. Most students (91 percent) are Wyoming residents, 8 percent come from out-of-state and 1 percent are international students, she said.

"Our purpose is to get students an associate’s degree and help them transfer to a four-year institution or to go on to work-force," said Grey.

One of the advantages of attending community college is "smaller class sizes, personalized attention," said Kyla Foltz, Casper College (CC) director of admissions services.

"Our class sizes are much smaller than a university so students get to know their classmates and they get more opportunity to ask questions … therefore, they understand the content of the class much better."

That appealed to Alyssa Schaff. The Casper College sophomore and Kelly Walsh High School graduate decided to attend Wyoming’s first junior college for other reasons, too, including the fact she could live at home, which saves money, and could continue working with young children at her church.

"I love the idea of staying in Casper – it’s much more personal, and that’s a big plus. Also, I can continue doing things I enjoy that relate to my education — like working in the church nursery and teaching first- and second- graders on Wednesday nights — while getting my degrees."

Schaff majors in elementary education, one of nearly 140 degrees and certificates offered by the college, and minors in early childhood education. She plans to attend the University of Wyoming at Casper (UW-Casper) this fall, keeping many of the same instructors and classmates.

"The teachers are nice and helpful; they know us and we know them," she said.

Advanced degrees

That’s one of the advantages of attending UW-Casper or one of the other university branches in the state, but there are others, including staying in one’s own community while seeking an advanced degree, whether a person is 20 or even older.

"A lot of our students are nontraditional – working adults that are place-bound and can’t go to Laramie," said Jeff Edgens, director of UW-Casper.

These include professionals, like teachers. Many courses are online, also appealing because students can work at their own pace, continue their jobs, and not leave home, he said.

UW-Casper offers 18 bachelor’s, 13 master’s and several doctoral programs, he said.

"We’re able to reach out across the state and make a positive difference in the lives of people."

UW-Casper started 40 years ago with just three bachelor degree offerings. Other branches sprang up during those decades.

"Wyoming is a big state. To put branch campuses across the state is a much more cost-effective use of resources, and it’s located in the student’s hometown – they’re able to get what they need without leaving home," he said.

For those, however, who desire to strike out on their own, the University of Wyoming in Laramie provides that opportunity but at a lower cost than attending an out-of-state school.

"We have by far the lowest undergraduate tuition for residents of any university in the country, and that’s not even taking into consideration the Hathaway Scholarship program," said Chad Baldwin, UW’s associate vice president for communications and marketing. "It’s about value; this is a major research university at a really low cost, and it’s a bridge to the world."

More than 200 areas of study as well as athletics and campus organizations are available to the 12,000-plus students who attend UW.

"We have a lot of ways for students to be involved," said Baldwin. "We have a strong study-abroad program, and we feel like the student opportunities for research are really strong for a four-year school."

UW was established in 1886, before Wyoming became a state. Just under 70 percent of the students are state residents; there is also a strong presence of international students and faculty, he said.

Students can also attend Wyoming Catholic College, in Lander, which offers a liberal arts education, or colleges out-of-state. No matter which higher education option one chooses, planning helps.

"Start the process early; don’t wait until the last minute," said Foltz. "Apply and visit more than one college to find out which one is right for you."

There are also options for those who aren’t college-minded. Former Natrona County High School student Geoff Cooper chose the military. He serves as an Army medic, recently relocating to Hawaii. He enlisted to "do something," he said, and though he has, the jobs of checking eyes, drawing blood and treating blisters weren’t what he had in mind.

"You can go wherever the Army tells you to, but that doesn’t mean you’re going into the job you signed up for," said Cooper, who had hoped to obtain field experience.

Whether he re-enlists four years from now or not, the Specialist E-4 recognizes two great benefits of being in the service.

"Leadership and medical skills – I can use these for the rest of my life."

Cooper advised those considering the military, "Know what you’re getting into before you join, because it isn’t easy. Don’t join if you’re weak."

If neither college nor the military sound appealing but automobiles rev one’s engine, WyoTech may be the right fit. Managed by Zenith Education Group, the Laramie school offers certifications in automotive technology, collision refinishing technology, diesel technology, motorcycle technology, and marine technology – each with specialties as well. WyoTech students spend at least nine months, 40 hours a week, gaining knowledge and skills.

"In nine months, they are career-ready; we get them skill-ready for jobs," said Caleb Perriton, campus president.

About 400 companies, including Caterpillar, AutoZone, CarMax, FedEx Freight, and Indian Motorcycles, seek out WyoTech graduates.

Hayden Clark attended two years after high school. Now a body technician for H.S. Customs in Logan, Utah, he applies his WyoTech training almost daily, he said.

"Everything I learned at school, I’ve used at work."

He’d recommend WyoTech to others who enjoy automobiles, but with a caution.

"Be prepared to work if you go to WyoTech," he said. "It’s a school that doesn’t just let you sit there; it gets you out of your comfort zone and pushes you to be better."

Wyomingites have options to advance their skills and knowledge. Research, preparation, determination, and hard work are keys to success, whichever path one chooses.

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