- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - For WyoTech, 2015 has been a year of changes.

The technical college was purchased by Zenith Education group after its former owner, Corinthian College, collapsed amid a cash shortage and fraud allegations. Since then, a significant number of employees were laid off, and enrollment dipped to a low point.

But as students lined up Friday in caps and gowns, Director of Education Caleb Perriton was still happy as he reflected on what the graduates accomplished in order to get to Friday’s commencement ceremony.

“This is a very gratifying day for us because this is when they actually start their careers,” Perriton said “From the campus president to the custodial crew, all have the same job: to get these students a career. We do very well at that, and today is where it all starts.”

Since he started with WyoTech six years ago, Perriton attended each of the quarterly graduations. The group graduating was small, about 140 students, compared to past years, he said.

The small graduating class, Perriton said, was indicative of the overall student population. In the school’s peak of enrollment in 2008, Perriton said there were about 1,800 students on campus. Today, there are 265.

When the next session begins, there should be an increase in the net number to about 320.

“It’s small for what we’re accustomed to,” Perriton told the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/1FTPX26). “This is certainly an anomaly in WyoTech’s history right now with such a low student population.”

The low enrollment could be attributed to many things, but Perriton said it comes down to difficulties faced with the transfer of ownership. The school is experiencing the “residual effects” of the sale, which severely affected recruitment efforts, he said.

“Our primary source of students is high school graduates,” Perriton said. “We weren’t effectively able to recruit the 2015 graduating class like we have in past years because we didn’t have recruiters in every state like we’ve traditionally had. I hate to say it, but our student population dip is a self-inflicted wound from the Corinthian days. I would say that’s primarily because they laid off a lot of admissions representatives.”

Though the numbers now are “a little thin,” Perriton said he expects the numbers to begin bouncing back with the arrival of 2016 high school graduates in the summer.

Zenith has been “aggressive” in hiring new admissions representatives and changing the marketing strategy in an effort to bring students in, Perriton said. Still, there is work to be done to get WyoTech back to where it was.

“(Zenith) took over their share of problems when they bought out a company that was on its way to chapter 11 bankruptcy,” Perriton said. “There are all the normal corporate costs of a merger or acquisition.”

Even with low enrollment, there is no shortage of jobs for vocational careers, nor a surplus of training schools, Perriton said.

“The job market is as strong as ever; more technicians are needed than we have graduates,” Perriton said. “There are not many places you can go and get a specialized automotive or diesel education.”

WyoTech has made “difficult” decisions this year by laying off a huge portion of its employees, Perriton said. But as “naysayers” claim WyoTech is on its way out, Perriton said he anticipates a resurgence because of the long-term investment from Zenith and its proven formula for success in placing students in gainful employment.

“Who owns us is not as important as the future of these students, who all have careers,” Perriton said. “And these are not simple jobs; these are mortgage-paying careers.”

In its nearly 50 years of history, WyoTech has gone through a handful of owners that have been the parent company, but through it all, WyoTech has remained. The demands of the industry or the way the school operates isn’t changing, and Perriton said he is optimistic the student population will continue to build in coming years.

“The Corinthian to Zenith transition is going to be a blip on the radar,” Perriton said. “The success of our graduates isn’t going to change.”

Of the approximately 140 graduates, nine are distinguished as outstanding. The students are nominated by their instructors for attitude, work ethic, leadership and sometimes involvement in the community, Perriton said. It is considered the highest award for each department at every graduation.

For outstanding graduate Chris Wiegers from Cheyenne, graduation marked the culmination of a goal of his since 2006 when he visited the campus with a high school autobody course. He said what made a graduate outstanding was work ethic, dedication to show up on time every day, as well as helping other students.

“I can’t imagine not having gone here,” Wiegers said. “I’ve learned a heck of a lot. It’s sad to leave, but it’s time to move on.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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