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Preston University: Higher Ed Could be Big as Coal in Wyoming

Preston University: Higher Ed Could be Big as Coal in Wyoming 


      Preston University Chancellor Jerry Haenisch has a bold vision for higher education in Wyoming: 500,000 students, new dorms and libraries, even a five-star hotel.

      All the Legislature needs to do is pass a law that would accommodate schools like his.

      But lately, state lawmakers instead have talked of requiring Preston and the state’s other private universities to become accredited. Rather than helping Preston, requiring accreditation likely would force the school to drastically scale back its international operations, and probably would force many of the other schools to shut down or leave the state.

      “It’s eliminating Wyoming’s opportunity to participate in what’s going to be the knowledge delivery boom in the economy,” Haenisch said in an interview with The Associated Press.

      Although Preston’s Cheyenne headquarters has a small number of students and employs 35 faculty, staff and administrators, the school exists mostly overseas, with 5,000 students at satellite campuses in 25 countries.

      Haenisch says that if Wyoming had the right law, Preston could boost its enrollment tenfold and would be able to build dormitories, classrooms, libraries, museums, restaurants and a five-star hotel for students who would come to Wyoming for part of their education.

      Other schools would want to get in on the act, he says, and could easily recruit a total of 500,000 students worldwide — roughly as many students as Wyoming has residents. He says if each student paid $7,000 —

what Preston charges for a Ph.D. — higher education could become as big as the state’s coal industry.

      But backers of the accreditation bill, which has been prepared for next month’s legislative session, are keen to do something about Wyoming’s reputation as a haven for diploma mills. About 10 online schools that cater mainly to overseas students operate from the state with virtually no oversight.

      Sen. Becket Hinckley, R-Cheyenne, said Wyoming needs to ensure that degrees issued here are valid, and doubted the notion that Wyoming could educate 500,000 college students. “On its face, I think that would be wonderful if Wyoming would be the educational Mecca of the entire planet,” he said. “I just don’t see that happening.”

      Haenisch said Preston has always planned to become accredited, but the bill would speed up the process and force Preston to make major changes.

      He said Preston would probably have to close or dissociate itself from some of its overseas campuses to become accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, which covers Wyoming and 18 other states. “We’ll keep some sort of presence internationally,” he said. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to stay in operation and forgo the large international market until the country catches up, the accrediting system.”

      On the other hand, Haenisch said Wyoming could help Preston attract more schools like it by setting up an international accrediting agency. It wouldn’t be difficult, he said, especially if the state required schools to keep all their records in Wyoming.

      Not on my watch, said State Superintendent Jim McBride, whose resume includes four years as head of Community College of the Air Force. “It would be a great moneymaking scheme, or operation,” he said. “It’s just not the business I’m in.”

— Associated Press

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