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Fort Washakie

A statue of Chief Washakie in front of office buildings in Fort Washakie.

There’s an old saying about meeting students where they are. It’s based on that idea that it’s best to teach students in a way that’s most effective for them, rather than forcing them to learn within a rigid system.

But the same holds true geographically. Students don’t always have the means or ability to travel for a college education. Some might not have a way to get to a large community for classes on a regular basis. Others might have family or work commitments that keep them tied to their hometown.

But those students still deserve an opportunity at a higher education. And as a state, we all benefit from an educated, skilled workforce. That’s why a partnership between Central Wyoming College and the Northern Arapaho tribe to offer classes on the Wind River Reservation is so commendable. Those classes, which will be offered in the evenings in Ethete, will make it easier for students on the reservation to work toward a college degree.

Moreover, students at CWC Wind River will have access to the same advising, financial aid and tutoring that their counterparts on the main Riverton campus now receive.

We agree with officials at the school who say that by making it easier for people on the reservation to attend classes, more students will be encouraged to start their educations. That’s because classes close to home eliminate barriers to education such as travel and childcare.

And students in communities like Ethete and Fort Washakie deserve college courses in their backyards, just like students in places like Casper, Rock Springs and Gillette.

“We’re a community college, and we serve the community,” Mark Nordeen, the college’s Dean of Arts and Sciences told the Star-Tribune. “And the community includes the reservation.”

The college has in the past offered some classes on the reservation. But the new partnership will expand those offerings, which will include English composition, public speaking, pre-college math and the Arapaho language.

And those options could expand. The college is working to finalize a similar agreement with the Eastern Shoshone that could include technical education classes such as welding.

At least initially, students won’t be able to earn a full degree from CWC Wind River. But the first step toward something can often be the most difficult, and allowing students to at least begin their college education close to home makes it more likely that they’ll ultimately end up with a degree.

The college and the tribes deserve praise for this venture. If the initial effort proves successful, we hope they receive the support from state officials and lawmakers to continue to grow this program. Improved access to education benefits not only the people living on the Wind River Reservation, but our entire state.

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