If Montana State University Billings was graded on its recent Opportunity Campaign, it would receive an A-plus.

Not only did it complete the three-year scholarship fund drive on schedule, it exceeded its original goal of $6 million by more than $1.2 million.

Those who helped make the campaign a success gathered Thursday night at Hilands Golf Club.

Ron Sexton saw the need for a campaign to raise scholarships for part-time, nontraditional and two-year degree students while he was MSU Billings chancellor.

He knew many students who would start school, only to have to drop out or cut back on classes because of a financial or family crisis.

Many students live from paycheck to paycheck, don’t have health insurance and come from families who can’t help out with school expenses, he said.

One student he knew was a working single mother of four children and financially able to only take a class or two at a time. It took her eight years to complete a degree.

Although they have great financial need, scholarships for nontraditional students were scarce.

Federal and state financial aid is not available for students who take less than six credits, he said.

Traditional work-study programs aren’t open to part-time students, either.

At the time, only two of the MSU Billings Foundation’s endowed scholarship funds were available to students going to the College of Technology, now called City College.

As soon as Sexton retired in 2010, he was asked to head the Opportunity Campaign.

Even though the country still was feeling the effects of the Great Recession, donors gave amounts large and small, including some MSU Billings students making $250 donations.

People and businesses in Billings and Montana were strong supporters, as were alums and their families living all over the country, Sexton said.

Some former students who had been struggling single parents while in school, but now had good jobs, also donated to the campaign.

Students already are benefiting from money raised during the drive and will continue to receive help thanks to new endowed funds, Sexton said.

Rolf Groseth, the current MSU Billings chancellor, also noted that students can run into financial roadblocks and even a little bit of money can help them finish school.

“It means there’s an opportunity to pursue their dreams,” he said.

Groseth was particularly pleased that the Opportunity Campaign is helping students working on two-year degrees. Montana has a lower percentage of students seeking those degrees, which are less expensive and can be a faster route to good-paying jobs.

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