By Tom Coulter
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon announced a new program Wednesday creating scholarships for adults who are unemployed or underemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to attend the University of Wyoming or one of the state’s community colleges.
The Adult Education Grant Program will be stood up with $7.5 million of the state’s $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding, which federal guidelines require be spent by the end of the year.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gordon said the program marked “an extraordinarily important step to take” to develop the state’s workforce.
“Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of graduation ceremonies for both community colleges and UW, and I have been so impressed by nontraditional students that we have seen and how anxious people are to expand and grow their credentials so that they’re much more employable,” Gordon said.
Scholarships through the Adult Education Grant Program will be distributed through an application process, with an opening date to be announced soon.
The governor also mentioned the likelihood of setting up a broader scholarship program for UW and community college students. Last week, a legislative task force offered its support for legislation from House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, that would establish a similar initiative.
The speaker’s proposal, in total, allocated $116 million to UW and the state’s seven community colleges. Asked if he was considering a similar amount, Gordon said his staff was figuring out what scholarships could be given under federal CARES Act guidelines.
“There’s a strong sentiment that says, ‘Damn the torpedoes, let’s just get this spent, because you know, what happens if we have an audit? Who cares? That’s for future generations,’” Gordon said. “As the chief executive, I don’t feel that I can bind future executive branches of the state because of carelessness on that part.
“We can do (the scholarship program) in a way so that my grandson won’t have to pay it back,” he continued.
Gordon didn’t offer a specific funding amount being considered for the program, but his office has been considering individual grants of about $3,250 to students who can certify that they have faced financial difficulty due to the pandemic and the recession.
Harshman’s proposal, meanwhile, would offer scholarships of $6,500 to full-time students who are U.S. citizens, and community college students would have their full tuition and fees covered by the grants.
The additional funding for higher education, if allocated, would come about a month after the state allocated $26 million in federal stimulus money to UW and $32.5 million to community colleges for their reopening plans.
With classes at UW and community colleges set to resume in person later this month, Gordon said more details on the more expansive scholarship program should be announced “in the coming days.”