By Carrie Haderlie
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — Although the framework for a new scholarship program for nontraditional students in Wyoming is now in place, no awards will be made until the state’s endowment fund reaches $50 million.
Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law a bill that creates the Wyoming’s Tomorrow scholarship program in mid-March. But the Legislature only approved a $10 million allocation to an endowment fund to create the program.
Before any money will reach students, the endowment must be grown to $50 million, with an ultimate goal of $100 million. Once that goal is met, the scholarship will be awarded to nontraditional students looking to go to college after age 24, with opportunities of up to $7,200 throughout four full-time terms.
Jumping the first big hurdle, and getting the program itself written into law this past session, was a huge step forward, advocates told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle this past week. It came after years of hard work.
“We had to get the structure in place. That was critically important to occur in this session,” said Sandra Caldwell, executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission.
The bill, now codified into state law, creates the framework for the Wyoming’s Tomorrow program and outlines how it will function. Some of its provisions take effect July 1, although without full funding, this is a preliminary step, a downpayment of sorts.
“Who it will serve was really the critical component to get accomplished this year,” Caldwell said. “We had to have the framework, and we had to get the framework right.”
While work on the legislation began in earnest about four years ago, the issue has been on the state’s radar for more than a decade, Caldwell said.
“It was in the statewide college system’s strategic plan as an economic driver in 2010, really on the heels of Hathaway being created,” she said, regarding another such program that is already in effect.
“This has been on the radar for the state of Wyoming since 2010,” added Caldwell, referring to the new program. “It took 12 years.”
The endowment must be grown by $40 million before any money actually reaches students for Wyoming’s Tomorrow. The existing initiative, started in 2006, is a state scholarship program named for former Gov. Stan Hathaway. It rewards eligible Wyoming students with scholarship money to attend one of Wyoming’s community colleges or the University of Wyoming.
In an email to the WTE, Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, said that he believes revenue streams into the Legislative Stabilization Reserve Account will set an all-time record of $2 billion in the next 24 months.
“I am committed to working to use some of the record revenue to the LSRA account for funding the Wyoming’s Tomorrow endowment,” he said. Other legislators interested in fully funding the scholarship will have to “hold the Appropriations Committee’s feet to the fire and ensuring that these projects are funded.”
Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said that getting the framework passed, and an initial $10 million allocation, is a great start.
“Wyoming’s Tomorrow will be like the Hathaway Scholarship. It will be a game changer for our citizens and our state as our economy continues to change,” Harshman wrote in an email.
He said that he is confident, “given our current mineral price and production, that we will enter a significant boom, and it will be important that we invest a portion of this in permanent savings, where the investment income will benefit our precious state and her people in perpetuity.”
According to Cindy DeLancey, who currently serves as the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance and who also sat on the state’s Educational Attainment Executive Council, industry partners are also looking at ways to help fund the endowment.
“The Legislature certainly has a role to play in funding … but the Community College Commission and Workforce Services have already been approached by the private sector, saying, ‘How can we contribute to the endowment, to play our part in helping to fund it, as well?’” she said in an interview.
“It is not just a reliance on the government to fill up the bank account. We are trying to figure out how that all looks,” DeLancey said. She added that already business generates wealth for Wyoming, and contributes tax revenue to the state’s budget.
The big win, she said, was that the state was able to establish the framework and the program, and create the endowment with the $10 million.
“I am really pleased that, when you bring so many different stakeholders together, that we were able to identify so many different solutions. We came up with something really meaningful to develop our workforce,” she said. “The fruits of our labor will bear out over time, particularly when we are able to get the program funded and scholarships awarded.”