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Responding to Wyoming workforce needs, the University of Wyoming will offer three new bachelor’s degree programs starting this fall.
The UW Board of Trustees Thursday approved new bachelor’s degrees in general studies; elementary and special education; and art education.
“The university’s strategic plan, ‘Breaking Through: 2017-2022,’ calls for development of academic programs that address workforce needs of the state and region,” Provost Kate Miller says. “The new Bachelor of General Studies provides a high-quality and flexible degree option for nontraditional and transfer students, making a college degree more accessible to the many adult Wyomingites with some college credits but no degree. And the elementary/special education and art education degrees will help fill critical needs for teachers in our state’s public schools.”
Bachelor of General Studies
The Bachelor of General Studies is a multidisciplinary program intended to facilitate degree completion for students at UW’s Laramie and Casper campuses, as well as throughout the state via distance education. It provides a strong pathway to a bachelor’s degree for the estimated 80,000 adults in Wyoming who have some college credits but no degrees, as well as for students to transfer to UW with excess hours to complete a bachelor’s degree before exhausting their federal financial aid availability.
Additionally, the new degree provides a viable option for students with associate degrees in general studies from Wyoming community colleges who might not otherwise continue their education.
“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 says. “The Bachelor of General Studies also will help Wyoming achieve its educational attainment goal of 67 percent of Wyoming’s working-age population holding postsecondary certificates or degrees by 2025.”
Students enrolling in the program — who must have previously completed 60 credit hours of coursework — will select two focus areas of study from 16 wide-ranging focus areas across the university. Each student will be assigned a professional adviser from the college that houses the student’s primary focus area, with 39 additional credits required for graduation.
The Bachelor of General Studies also is intended to replace three “distributed” degree programs — the humanities and fine arts distributed major, the social science distributed major, and the mathematics and science distributed major — that have been identified for elimination by UW.
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, so graduates will be equipped to teach students in K-6 classrooms as well as students with disabilities at all grade levels. The objective is to address the shortage of teachers in Wyoming, particularly special education teachers.
“This range of expertise positions graduates to better serve all students within multiple educational settings and provides flexibility within districts to shift teaching roles when demand necessitates,” Miller says. “Not only does this dual licensure program support local school district demand, but it also better prepares pre-service teachers to meet the unique needs of a diverse population of students.”
The degree will be offered through in-person instruction as well as distance technologies. The latter option has been developed in response to input from school administrators across Wyoming.
“Administrators pushed the need to ‘grow their own’ special education teachers and allow for an option that would allow community members and in-house employees, often paraprofessionals, to earn their degrees while maintaining their connections to the community, their families and their jobs,” Miller says. “Some districts have shared a willingness to provide financial support or incentives to these individuals.”
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 says. “This new degree program is intended to fill that need.”
Bachelor of Arts in Art Education
This new degree program is a reorganization and rehousing of a program that had been offered by the College of Education. Now housed in the Department of Art and Art History/Visual and Literary Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences, it is intended to fill a need for art teachers in Wyoming’s K-12 schools.
“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 says. “Through our art education graduates, we aim to inspire future generations to embrace the visual arts as a means of responding to and understanding the world around them, as well as expressing their personal and cultural identities through the arts.”
In another academic matter, the Board of Trustees approved a proposal to reorganize UW’s geography instruction, research and service. That includes elimination of the Department of Geography but retention and review of the Bachelor of Science in geography, which had 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 proposed new interdisciplinary 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 says. “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.”
All tenure-track, tenured and extended-term academic personnel in the Department of Geography will be moved into academic units suitable to their expertise. No staff positions will be eliminated.
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.
UW also is home to the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center (WyGISC), established in 1996 as an interdisciplinary research center focused on development of geospatial information and technologies and their applications in science, education, government and business. In December 2017, the Provost’s Spatial Sciences Initiative Task Force recommended that WyGISC lead the development of a cross-college GIST program to deliver undergraduate, graduate and professional GIST curricula. Notice of intent for the new programs has been approved by the Board of Trustees, and a full feasibility study is underway, with anticipated board consideration later this spring.
UW will continue to provide geography courses for future teachers in the College of Education, through the minor and related coursework.
And the university will remain home to the Wyoming Geographic Alliance (WGA), which promotes geography education across the state — including hosting the annual National Geographic Society Wyoming Geography Bee. The WGA also provides professional development to K-12 educators.