Montana’s two-year colleges must continue working to attract adult students while branding the schools to reflect their affiliation with the Montana University System, the Board of Regents was told Thursday.
Less than a day after Missoula College of the University of Montana accepted its new name and mission, regents reviewed their efforts to bring adults, veterans and high school graduates into the state’s postsecondary system.
“One of our best opportunities to do that will be through the kind of programs found at our two-year campuses,” said John Cech, deputy commissioner for two-year and community college education with the Montana University System. “For a decade now, the board has been emphasizing two-year education and putting a spotlight on it.”
Following the advice of consultants, Cech said the state will continue working to set new standards for its two-year schools, and creating a formula allowing them to be compared by regents on a side-by-side basis.
He said the schools are marching forward on the same path, but may not be advancing at the same rate. The work has involved a major rebranding effort, doing away with the term “college of technology” and replacing it with names to show the place, affiliation and mission of each school.
“We’re moving at different places along the path,” said Cech. “We’re almost finished with some of these coming-out events in terms of changing our names and signaling to our communities that there will be an expansion in the mission of our campuses.”
Missoula College accepted its new name at an unveiling ceremony Wednesday night. Rolf Groseth, chancellor at City College at Montana State University-Billings, said his school did the same back in October.
With the name change and rebranding effort complete, Groseth said, City College will look to accomplish its new list of initiatives, such as creating new pathways for students to earn their credentials or integrating more fully with industry.
“It’s not quite like an internship, but rather, it’s more of a European model, working with industry to produce workers for them,” said Groseth. “We and Great Falls College are working with industries in our communities, like welding and fitting, to achieve some of those areas.”
Groseth said City College also is looking to make education more accessible to adult students by offering general education classes at more convenient hours.
Efforts to improve outreach to adults took center stage as regents discussed the mission of the state’s two-year colleges.
Bob Hietala, dean of Gallatin College, said nearly 45 percent of the enrollment in Montana’s two-year schools are nontraditional students.
“We’re starting to lag behind our peers when you compare the number of adults we serve in the system per 1,000 adults,” Hietala said. “Montana ranks 11th, serving 7.7 adults per 1,000 adults in the state.”
The average in the 14-state region surrounding Montana is 21.7 adult students per 1,000 adults. New Mexico has the highest rate of 39.6. The state could boost that number by offering more credits for prior learning or experience gained from life, the regents were told.
Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian said the system should do more to reach out to military veterans as well. Any solutions presented by regents, he said, should consider such action.
“I think this is an area we can really reach out to men and women who served this country and encourage them to go back to school and help them along the way and give them credit for their experience,” Christian said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it could really help some students.”
UM President Royce Engstrom also addressed regents regarding the state’s need to win $47 million in funding to build Missoula College on the South Campus.
As he did with a group of concerned residents the night before, he walked regents through the planning process, and how the state came to prefer the South Campus as its preferred building site.
Many regents weren’t appointed in 2007 when the plan was approved, and when the Legislature appropriated $500,000 to design the South Campus Master Plan.
“This has been a project that’s been in the works for several years, and at least in a formal sense, for 10 years,” he said. “It’s the highest-priority new construction item you have for this legislative session.”
Engstrom said the plan looks to start with Missoula College, though the overall concept isn’t limited to the placement of a single building.
Rather, he said, the plan refers to the long-term growth of UM. Unlike other locations suggested in past plans, the South Campus is capable of accommodating the university’s list of needs.
“We do need a place to think in a deliberate, well-coordinated way about the future growth of the university,” he said. “We own the land outright and have been actively developing that site for many years. It’s conducive to the movement of students and staff between locations.”
Christian reminded the regents that the South Campus vetting process has already played out and was approved in 2007.
“UM does not need further board approval to move forward,” he said. “It has received what approval it needs. It will continue to move forward unless this board considers otherwise.”
Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, firstname.lastname@example.org or @martinkidston.