Missoula College, the two-year occupational and technical education branch of the University of Montana, has received a nearly $8 million federal grant to give more students an opportunity for educations in health care fields and ultimately fill much-needed, high-paying jobs – particularly in nursing.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Monday that 15 two-year community colleges and tribal colleges in Montana will receive a combined $15 million to improve and expand health care training opportunities, and the grant will be administered by Missoula College UM.

Bitterroot College UM received $158,789, and Missoula College’s in-house total was $7,934,206.

The grant, called the Montana HealthCARE grant, has four primary objectives, according to a statement from Gov. Steve Bullock. The money will be used to create statewide health care pathways to simplify the process for earning a career certificate or degree in the health care industry and it will systematically address Montana’s nursing shortages and provide accelerated pathways to completion of nursing programs.

The grant’s aim is also to increase student success by providing services that better prepare adult students for success in the curriculum, coach students in education pathway navigation and provide access to distance education.

Finally, the money will be used to engage the health care industry, education industry, workforce programs and other stakeholders to improve workforce development strategies through on-the-job training and apprenticeship opportunities.

Key population groups to be targeted by the Montana HealthCARE grant include long-term unemployed, veterans and new ways to reach adult learners. The grant will also create health care apprenticeship and training programs for the first time in Montana and develop an integrated system for health care workforce planning.

“A strong economy requires a talented and trained workforce, with the skills to fill the jobs that are most in demand, and this is especially true in Montana’s growing health care industry.” Bullock said. “This grant will facilitate innovative private-public partnerships to ensure our two-year and community colleges, universities, and tribal colleges together with our state workforce systems are responsive to the needs of healthcare employers as well as job seekers looking for opportunities in their local communities.”

According to statistics from the state labor department, Montana’s population is aging and leaving the workforce, which is creating new demands on Montana’s health care industries. The industry is expected to add about 1,300 jobs each year until 2022.

The grant is expected to result in the completion of nearly 2,500 new certificates and two-year degrees in allied health and nursing. It will create new opportunities for associate degree registered nurses to more easily bridge to four-year bachelor’s degrees in nursing. In addition, the grant will create hybrid registered apprenticeship programs sponsored by local health-care employers for the following job descriptions: certified nurse assistant, medical coding and insurance billing, health information technology and pharmacy technology.

Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@missoulian.com.