Even before last week’s announcement that Montana’s two-year colleges will share a new $25 million grant, it was clear that the state’s two-year education institutions are in the middle of an unprecedented reinvigoration.
While the rate of college graduation has remained relatively steady across the nation, Montana is leading with an impressive 6 percent increase. Instead of taking for granted that enrollment will continue to increase, as it has for more than 10 years, the state’s two-year institutions have made a sustained effort to expand their missions, their programs and, of course, the number of students they serve.
In doing so, they have increasingly worked to create a cohesive, comprehensive vision for the future of two-year education in Montana. It’s a vision that depends on keeping college accessible by keeping it affordable, and on offering cutting-edge programs to ensure students are well equipped to continue their educations at a four-year college or get started on good-paying jobs.
Just a few months ago, Montana’s two-year colleges celebrated the completion of the ambitious goals outlined in the College!NOW initiative, which left the starting gate at full speed thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education.
Imagine what Montana’s two-year colleges can do with $25 million.
The Montana Board of Regents announced the new U.S. Department of Labor grant last week during their regular meeting. As the lead applicant, Great Falls College of Montana State University has the responsibility of overseeing its administration. Great Falls also received the biggest share of the grant: $8.5 million.
All of the 13 colleges named in the grant will use their portion of the money to enhance training programs that directly relate to jobs in emerging fields – meaning technology, health care, energy and more. Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian explained that an estimated 10,000 students will benefit from this kind of training over the next four years.
The grant comes at a particularly interesting time for Missoula. While Missoula College finally obtained the legislative go-ahead to build a new – and badly needed – facility in the form of a $29 million appropriation, ongoing community wrangling over the new college’s location have kept plans from moving forward.
The new grant includes $1.8 million for Missoula College. That’s an enormous investment in local workforce development – one that demands to be capitalized as soon as possible. It cannot wait another two or three or more years while Missoulians argue endlessly about which part of town the new college should be located.
Missoulians ought to join the rest of Montana in applauding this timely windfall – and in encouraging our two-year colleges to make the most of it.
EDITORIAL BOARD: Publisher Jim McGowan, Editor Sherry Devlin, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen