The fourth and final Montana State University Billings chancellor candidate said on Friday during an open forum that the university’s options — offering two-year, four-year and master’s degree programs and a strong online program — set it apart.
“The one advantage that MSUB really has is the diversity of the education,” said Dr. Mark Nook, senior vice president for academic affairs for the University of Wisconsin System.
Discussing how to help reach Montana Gov. Steve Bullock’s goal of increasing the number of Montana adults with post-secondary certificates from 40 to 60 percent — a topic on which each of the four candidates presented through the week — Nook said MSUB can use those options to help new students.
“We have to look at the population that higher education has not traditionally served,” he said.
He said that even if Montana worked on getting every graduating high school senior in the state a college education, which is important, it wouldn’t get to the 60 percent mark “in the next 30 years.”
Identifying and reaching out to adults who have already started but never finished earning degrees could help bring those numbers up, Nook said.
One strategy he proposed involved finding past students who’d earned enough credits for, or within a few credits of, an associate’s degree but left and offering to transfer those credits toward such a degree.
Nook also said it’s important to work with local businesses and industry to make sure that students are leaving college with valued degrees that can get them jobs in the region.
“We need to reach out to business and industry and ask them what they need,” he said.
That could involve creating special programs for specific employers that would educate employees, such as those at local refineries, hospitals and in the service industry.
It’s also important to ensure that businesses and industries in Montana require credentials, such as degrees and certificates, to ensure that an educated workforce stays in the state.
While he wasn’t sure if it could be implemented at MSUB, Nook also said he’d explore competency-based education, in which students earn credits and are placed based on their understanding or learning through real-world experience.
“Let’s see where they’re at and place them appropriately,” he said.
After his presentation, Nook answered several audience questions. He said that athletics are essential to any university, especially as a “front door” to bring people in, but that standards must be high.
“We’ve got to make sure that the programs have a high level of integrity,” he said.
Answering a question about the role of innovation at MSUB, Nook said that MSUB and Billings must ask, “What do we aspire to?” before moving forward.
“These are our variables, there’s our goal and what’s our path there?” he said.
He also said it’s important to keep faculty and staff happy and wants to encourage MSUB to be a place they want to work, both by paying them what they’re worth, or “as close to that as the budget will allow,” and through personal satisfaction.
“We have to make a working environment that working here is about more than just the paycheck,” he said.
Nook is also a finalist for president of Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D.
Nook was the final chancellor candidate to visit Billings this week. Ricardo Maestas, special assistant to the Texas State University System chancellor, visited on Monday, while Michael Droge, president of Park University in Parkville, Missouri, spent Tuesday on campus.
Margaret Madden, provost and vice president for academic affairs at State University of New York Potsdam, visited MSUB on Wednesday.
Montana State University President Waded Cruzado will make a final decision on the new chancellor in the coming weeks.
Chancellor Rolf Groseth announced in January that he will retire after MSUB’s May 3 commencement.