Relief money to boost higher ed

CASPER — Gov. Mark Gordon will allocate $27 million in federal relief money toward building up Wyoming’s higher education opportunities, his office announced Tuesday. The money draws on funds awarded to Wyoming through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a COVID-19 stimulus package. 

Some of that $27 million will be used to sponsor the first year of the Wyoming Innovation Partnership (WIP), the office said in a statement. The initiative, unveiled in January, is a collaboration between the University of Wyoming and the state’s community colleges. 

Previously called the Wyoming Innovation Network, it will focus on growing technology and entrepreneurship programs with the ultimate goal of diversifying Wyoming’s workforce and attracting new businesses. 

Strengthening options in health care, agriculture and manufacturing education is also on the WIP’s agenda, the office said. 

“I believe there is urgency in launching the first phase of this initiative as a means to help Wyoming’s economy grow and thrive as we move out of the COVID pandemic,” Gordon said in a statement. “The projects this funding supports build on successes we have already seen to develop needed workforce and to engage the entrepreneurs of Wyoming so they can innovate and grow businesses and technologies.” 

“This investment will utilize our higher education institutions to help chart a path to a healthy future for Wyoming,” Gordon continued. “By working together we can create more opportunities for people to live and work in our state, and ensure our workforce has the skills they need for the jobs and industries of today and into the future.” 

The institutions will use the money to develop “collaborative programs” in entrepreneurship, energy, digital infrastructure, technology, tourism and hospitality, according to the statement. 

After it gets off the ground, the partnership hopes to sustain itself through outside sources of funding, including corporate partnerships. 

The partnership has plans to start a Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, for example. As part of this, the University of Wyoming will launch eight new business incubators. They already have satellite programs at the Laramie, Casper and Sheridan community colleges, but intend to expand to Cheyenne, Gillette, Powell, Riverton, Rock Springs, Torrington, Evanston and Rawlins. 

The money will also be used to kick-start a statewide computing education program, the governor’s office said. 

Plans for the program include the following:  a school of computing at the University of Wyoming;  a degree in software development, spearheaded by the Northern Wyoming Community College District;  courses on financial and banking technology and blockchains. 

The money will also be used to help institutions expand training programs in hospitality and tourism, including the following:  a Wyoming Outdoor Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality Center at the university;  support for search and rescue, culinary and hospitality programs at Casper College, Central Wyoming College, Northern Wyoming Community College District and Laramie County Community College. 

Additionally, funding will go toward strengthening line technology and low-voltage fiber-optic programs at the state’s community colleges.