Barron: Flexibility needed for the mature student | Columns

CHEYENNE — House Bill 231 is one of those bills that passes the Legislature with little attention.

Yet the new law enacted by lawmakers last year fits squarely with the state’s need for flexibility and innovation in higher education.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe MacGuire, a Casper Republican, it protects credits anyone has received from a state college or university, regardless of how long since they were awarded.

“Any Wyoming institution of higher education receiving funding from the State of Wyoming must accept as valid and transferable any college level credit hour previously completed with an acceptable grade at any other Wyoming institution of higher education.”

“A higher education institution may refuse to accept a credit hour only if there is no demonstrable applicability to the institution’s current educational standards.” says the new law.

It also requires the college or university to have an appeals process in place so that a returning adult does not have to accept the advice of a counsellor,” the law reads.

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MacGuire said in an email that he decided to sponsor the bill to help mature students return to college.

McGuire, a businessman and lawyer, said over the years he had friends and associates, including some who attended Casper College with him, who made a career out of it.

“Usually in oil and gas, and during one of the recessions they wanted to go back to school to finish a degree.”

But they were told that since it had been more than 10 years since they left school, their college credits had expired and they would have to start over, he added.

When he asked former University of Wyoming president Laura Nichols about the 10-year expiration, she said it was because of the school’s accreditation standards.

He knew that wasn’t true, he said, after consulting him before the question.

“When I asked her to show me the 10-year expiration in writing, she spun around and said ‘well, that’s the custom’,” he said.

During his speech to the House floor, MacGuire said, “If, like me, the student took Fortran and the college said Fortran doesn’t apply to anything,” he would accept that decision.

(Fortran is a programming language used in math and science. It is considered a relic today.)

But if the same thing was said to the student about calculus credits, he would like to have the right to call on someone other than an adviser.

His bill, which passed, dovetails easily with the Wyoming Tomorrow scholarship proposal.

The scholarship bill has had a tougher time with the Legislative Assembly.

After being studied for about six years, it easily passed the House last year but died in Senate committee.

Lawmakers said the catch was money; the original bill was funded by the state’s Hathaway Scholarship Program.

Find another source of income and it will work, supporters said.

Legislative leaders therefore gave him another trip to the Interim Joint Education Committee for an overhaul.

In November last year, the Joint Committee on Education voted 8-6 to sponsor it in the February budget session, a decision that will require a two-thirds majority vote.

The committee vote indicated that it might not be an easy sell this time around.

The Tomorrow scholarship would go to people aged 24 or over who may be married with children and a house and who wish to complete their education or completely change their career to another profession. Or it may be for someone who wants a certificate in another field of work and the college can provide the training.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, told the Joint Education Committee in November that the key need was flexibility in graduate scholarships.

As Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said earlier, “The traditional student age is gone.”

Joan Barron is a former Capitol Bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or [email protected]

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