LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming’s board of trustees have approved the school to, beginning this fall, offering bachelor’s degrees in general studies, elementary and special education, and art education.
University leaders see the new degree programs as targeting workforce needs in the state.
During the same board meeting last week, the trustees also approved a dissolution of UW’s geography department, which has suffered from low enrollment and limited staffing.
Bachelor of General Studies
The new bachelor’s in general studies degree could make a significant difference in increasing the number of Wyomingites with bachelor’s degrees.
Anne Alexander, associate vice provost of undergraduate education, said at last week’s meeting that “several hundred” students leave the university each year with no degree but at least 120 credit hours, the minimum required to receive a bachelor’s degree in most programs.
According to UW, an estimated 80,000 adults in Wyoming have some college credits but no degrees.
Sandy Caldwell, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, told the trustees that the new program is “well received” across the state.
The general studies degree would allow students to select “two focus areas of study” from a total of 16 options.
The summary of the degree states that it’s designed for “non-traditional students, returning students, students who arrive at UW with significant college credit, and students with complex curricular interests.”
In a press release, provost Kate Miller said the degree is also a “viable option” for students with associate degrees in general studies.
“With a focus on providing a bachelor’s degree, particularly for students who may have accrued significant numbers of credit in multiple areas but have not met specific degree course requirements, this program is designed to ensure that more students complete bachelor’s degrees, which will allow these graduates to obtain employment that requires at least a bachelor’s degree more readily,” Miller said. “The Bachelor of General Studies also will help Wyoming achieve its educational attainment goal of 67 percent of Wyoming’s working-age population holding post-secondary certificates or degrees by 2025.”
Bachelor of Arts in Elementary and Special Education
This new UW College of Education degree program provides dual majors in both elementary and special education, which is expected to help address the shortage of teachers in Wyoming, particularly special education teachers.
“In the smaller school districts in the state, hiring a special education teacher for a small number of students who doesn’t have the certification to teach in other areas causes a lot of grief,” trustee Mel Baldwin said last week.
Students enrolled in the program will be able to take all classes both in-person and online.
Miller said the online option was requested by school administrators.
According to UW, of the 1,032 special education teachers currently working in Wyoming, 46 are doing so under an exception authorization license, meaning they’re not fully qualified.
“Rather than individuals working on a provisional license as a result of Wyoming districts lacking an adequate candidate pool, districts need highly qualified and fully licensed special education teachers,” Miller said in a press release. “This new degree program is intended to fill that need.”
Bachelor of Arts in Art Education
UW will again be offering an art education degree, which was suspended for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 academic years.
Previously, the art education degree was housed in the College of Education, but the reorganized program will be housed in the Department of Art and Art History/Visual and Literary Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences.
When the program was first suspended, UW considered eliminating it all together, which led to backlash from K-12 educators across the state.
“We are excited to implement this program as a way to create effective, progressive 21st century arts learning opportunities for students in K-12 schools throughout Wyoming and the region,” Miller said.
The trustees approved a plan to dissolve the university’s geography department, though some degrees housed in the department will remain.
In the short-term, UW will keep its bachelor of science in geography, which had originally been proposed for elimination. Oversight of that degree will move to the Department of Geology and Geophysics, at least temporarily.
At the same time, UW is moving forward with a new program in geospatial information science and technology (GIST).
“The discipline of geography is clearly tied to the university’s vision in the way that it seeks to understand the social and environmental challenges of today in order to create a sustainable, diverse and equitable world for tomorrow,” Miller said in a press release. “While it is not in the university’s interest to serve the need for geography research and knowledge with a stand-alone academic department at present, this proposal retains faculty expertise, foundational courses and the major and minor in geography, while simultaneously moving UW in a direction that supports new programs in spatial sciences to meet changing student demands and workforce needs.”
No staff or “tenure-track, tenured and extended-term academic personnel” are expected to lose their jobs as part of the geography department dissolution.
“The faculty is struggling to deliver their programs with the current level of resources allocated to the department. Even with two visiting professors, faculty resources are insufficient to support programs with six academic degree offerings and three minors,” the proposal states.
Other reasons the proposal cites for the dissolution include the department’s low enrollment and the fact that “current offerings at undergraduate level are replicable within other existing or proposed degree programs.”
The Department of Geography was the only remaining small department in the College of Arts and Sciences, as the college consolidated from 30 to 21 departments by the end of 2017.
For more news from the Laramie Boomerang, visit https://www.laramieboomerang.com/.