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College scholarships help fill Wyoming high-demand worker pipeline

Two people in bright-colored suits watch a robot arm as it welds.
Adobe Stock
Scholarship recipients are required to register with the Wyoming Department of Workforce, which will help connect students to job opportunities.

Fall semester is just weeks away, and many adults age 24 and older are tapping up to $7200 in scholarships to start or finish a college degree or certificate.

Ben Moritz, deputy director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, said the Kickstart Wyoming's Tomorrow scholarship can be a pathway to good-paying, high-demand jobs. Colleges have teamed up with businesses across the state to create credential programs that give students the training they need to succeed in a wide range of fields.

"They need welders, they need construction workers, they need folks for wind farms," Moritz explained. "Having that certificate - that short-term credential, which you can complete in three to six months a lot of times - that's what they're looking for."

The Wyoming's Tomorrow Scholarship initiative was passed by state lawmakers in 2021, but the endowment has just $30 million of the $50 million needed to launch. Lawmakers approved funding in this year's session to get money to students who need financial aid now through a bridge program. Moritz said residents should ask their local college's financial aid office about "Kickstart Wyoming's Tomorrow."

Because many Wyomingites age 24 and older tend to have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities, Moritz said each college has created strategies to meet older students where they are.

"There are a lot of programs that can be done online," he said. "You can't learn to weld online, but you can learn to weld in the evenings. So there's a lot of flexibility. It's definitely not 'Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 10 am to 11 am you've got to be at this class at this time.'"

Wyoming's goal is to ensure that 6 in ten adult residents have an industry-recognized credential by 2025. When the work started under Governor Mead, just 40% had credentials. That number is now over 50%, and Moritz says scholarships are key for reaching 60% because they remove one of the biggest barriers for people of all ages to get good-paying jobs.

"In this day and age, the economy is changing so rapidly that everybody has to be a lifelong learner. Everybody has to be adaptable and be learning new skills," Moritz said.