Guest opinion: College!NOW boosts learning opportunities for Montanans

2011-05-26T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: College!NOW boosts learning opportunities for Montanans


The Billings Gazette
May 26, 2011 12:00 am  • 

May 20 was an historic day for higher education in Montana. The Montana Board of Regents voted unanimously to adopt Montana’s first comprehensive two-year education mission and vision for the state’s public two-year colleges, setting the stage for growth, diversification, and rebranding of Montana’s five colleges of technology each connected to one of Montana’s universities.

The board’s adoption of the comprehensive two-year mission and vision document is important because the document will serve to drive all future strategic planning for the state’s public two-year colleges.

Montana’s public two-year colleges include three comprehensive community colleges (Flathead Valley Community College, Dawson Community College and Miles Community College), five colleges of technology (Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Missoula and Helena), and two-year programs in Bozeman, Havre, Lewistown, Dillon and Hamilton.

Montana’s two-year education opportunities represent the fastest growing segment of higher education in the state with 81 percent growth in enrollment over the past 10 years. Our public two-year colleges provide traditional and nontraditional students with affordable and accessible learning opportunities leading to either direct employment or transfer to one of our universities.

Our two-year colleges and programs are responsible for preparing students to support the basic infrastructure of our state through diverse programs ranging from radiology, nursing, information technology, fire science, paramedic, construction, and welding to business administration and a variety of traditional and alternative energy programs. They also provide affordable educational opportunities for students to earn their first two years of a baccalaureate degree.

Montana’s new comprehensive two-year education mission is centered around the attributes of the comprehensive community college mission which include:

Transfer education through the associate’s degree

Workforce development, including certificates and applied associate’s degrees

Developmental and adult basic education

Lifelong learning

Community development

The new mission of Montana’s two-year colleges emphasizes the importance of being student-centered, accessible and responsive.

By fall 2013, through the State’s College!NOW initiative (funded by the Lumina Foundation), Montana’s two-year leaders have been directed by Board of Regents to implement the comprehensive two-year mission in each of the state’s five colleges of technology. The governor has also endorsed these goals. This work will involve the transformation and ultimate rebranding of the state’s COTs so that each will provide the citizens of their communities, young and old, the full array of services found in a comprehensive community college.

Other important College!Now initiatives include the creation of new partnerships with Montana’s seven tribal colleges, secondary schools, and business and industry, expanding dual-enrollment opportunities, improved coordination and alignment of curricula, development of performance-based funding models, and improved public awareness through strategic communication initiatives. In their May 20 motion of approval, the board has asked the deputy commissioner for two- year and community college education to provide updates on the progress of this work at each subsequent Board of Regents meeting.

Over the past 10 years, Montana’s public two-year colleges have become increasingly important contributors to new educational opportunities and pathways for our citizens and state. In 2001, enrollment in Montana’s public two-year colleges represented only 17 percent of the state’s undergraduate enrollment. By 2011 that figure has grown to 29 percent. Our goal is to reach 46 percent by 2020, ultimately increasing the number of credentialed Montanans.

Stay tuned, change is in the air!

John E. Cech, PhD, is deputy commissioner for two-year and Community College Education for the Montana University System in Helena.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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