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Central Wyoming College is in top two percent of U.S. community colleges, according to website Niche

A college campus with green grass, big trees, and sidewalk paths connecting multiple big buildings.
Central Wyoming College
Central Wyoming College includes a main campus in Riverton, an outreach center and the Alpine Science Institute in Lander, and outreach centers in Jackson and Dubois. The community college was just ranked the #1 community college in the state and the 20th community college in the country.

Central Wyoming College (CWC) recently received some high marks from the college-ranking website Niche. The website listed CWC as the #1 community college in the state and the 20th community college in the nation, putting it in the top two percent of all community colleges ranked. The website’s assessment combines statistics like graduation rates with metrics like location, value, and quality of student life.

The majority of students that CWC serves are low-income, the first in their family to go to college, or have scored below the standardized test ACT college readiness benchmark. But unlike many other colleges in the state, the college’s enrollment has actually rebounded after the pandemic, according to CWC Academic Vice President Dr. Kathy Wells.

Wells said that the college’s recent addition of two four-year bachelor’s degrees, one of which is focused on early childhood education, have a lot to do with its ability to attract and retain students.

“The diversity and the flexibility in the way we've structured those degrees has really lent itself to be very attractive to the student that's looking to advance their education,” she said.

CWC Academic Vice President Dr. Kathy Wells
Central Wyoming College
CWC Academic Vice President Dr. Kathy Wells

Wells said another big part of CWC’s success is its emphasis on student engagement and the meaningful connections created between students, staff, and faculty.

“We hear from our students over and over, year after year, that the relationships they build are what support their success here and are so critical to them either completing their program, transferring on successfully, or entering the job market successfully,” she said.

While most community colleges throughout the country don’t have on-campus housing options, the rurality of Wyoming makes offering housing more of a priority for colleges in the state. CWC offers both on-campus dorm-style housing for more traditionally-aged college students and apartment-style housing for older students or those with families.

Wells said that CWC also serves as a cultural hub for the whole community, whether that be through the school’s rodeo team, art shows on campus, or family movie nights. Wells said the school also has the most athletic teams out of all the community colleges in Wyoming.

“Those home games are so much fun, both for the traditional age college student and the college faculty member who's taught at CWC for thirty years and can’t wait for the next home game,” she said.

CWC President Dr. Brad Tyndall said the positive rankings on Niche and beyond have a lot to do with the college’s varied and ever-evolving curriculum.

“We have this great slate of programs we've been pushing out and I’ve got to give credit to academic affairs for that. We've been so nimble and fast at identifying the market and taking advantage of opportunities,” he said.

CWC President Dr. Brad Tyndall
Central Wyoming College
CWC President Dr. Brad Tyndall

CWC launched a cosmetology track in a matter of months and now has an Alpine Science program that has taken students to Mount Everest and to the top of Kilimanjaro. The school also recently opened its Rustler Agriculture and Equine Center, which hosts the state’s only ranch-to-table meat processing program with a USDA-certified facility, and is working on building a permanent campus in Jackson.

Tyndall said the college’s many unique offerings provide students with top-notch, highly-specialized experiences.

“We're the only community college with a cadaver lab, which sounds kind of gross and macabre, but it's a great place for students to learn anatomy and physiology. And we’re the only college that has this regenerative 127-acre farm and is the host of Wyoming PBS on our campus,” he said.

Tyndall said the college also worked hard to become designated as a Native American Serving Non-Tribal Institution, which has given the school more resources to adapt its curriculum to better serve Native students. CWC is now home to the Institute of Tribal Learning, which offers a leadership and Tribal Wisdom Society program and helps students find their role in society. The school also offers an Organizational Management and Leadership Bachelor of Applied Science degree with a focus on Tribal Leadership.

CWC Tribal Education Coordinator Ivan Posey
Central Wyoming College
CWC Tribal Education Coordinator Ivan Posey

Tyndall said CWC Tribal Education Coordinator Ivan Posey and CWC American Indian Student Success Coordinator Rory Tendore, along with other staff and community members, have really helped the school to try things differently in its efforts to “Indigenize” its curriculum.

“There are times where you have to say, the success of the reservation and the tribes has to almost be more important than me worrying about our enrollments. There are times where you have to just sit back and trust and do what's right,” Tyndall said.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.
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