MISSOULA — The Board of Regents got a progress update on the University System's two-year colleges during its meeting this week.
Less than a day after Missoula College of the University of Montana got a new name and mission, regents reviewed their efforts to bring adults, veterans and high school graduates into the state’s postsecondary system.
“One of our best opportunities to do that will be through the kind of programs found at our two-year campuses,” said John Cech, deputy commissioner for two-year and community college education with the Montana University System. “For a decade now, the board has been emphasizing two-year education and putting a spotlight on it.”
Following the advice of consultants, Cech said they'll continue to work on new standards for two-year schools and creating a formula allowing them to be compared on a side-by-side basis.
He said the schools are marching forward on the same path, but may not be advancing at the same rate. The work has involved a major rebranding effort, doing away with the term “college of technology” and replacing it with names to show the place, affiliation and mission of each school.
“We’re moving at different places along the path,” said Cech. “We’re almost finished with some of these coming-out events in terms of changing our names and signaling to our communities that there will be an expansion in the mission of our campuses.”
Missoula College took on its new name at an unveiling ceremony Wednesday night. Rolf Groseth, chancellor at City College at Montana State University Billings, said his school did the same in October.
With the name change and rebranding effort complete, Groseth said, City College will work to create new pathways for students to earn their credentials and integrate more fully with industry.
“It’s not quite like an internship, but rather, it’s more of a European model, working with industry to produce workers for them,” said Groseth. “We and Great Falls College are working with industries in our communities, like welding and fitting, to achieve some of those areas.”
Groseth said City College also is looking to make education more accessible to adult students by offering general-education classes at more convenient hours.
Efforts to improve outreach to adults took center stage as regents discussed the mission of the state’s two-year colleges.
Bob Hietala, dean of Gallatin College, said nearly 45 percent of the enrollment in Montana’s two-year schools are nontraditional students.
“We’re starting to lag behind our peers when you compare the number of adults we serve in the system per 1,000 adults,” Hietala said. “Montana ranks 11th, serving 7.7 adults per 1,000 adults in the state.”
The average in the 14-state region surrounding Montana is 21.7 adult students per 1,000 adults. New Mexico has the highest rate of 39.6. The state could boost that number by offering more credits for prior learning or experience gained from life, the regents were told.
Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian said the system should do more to draw military veterans.
“I think this is an area we can really reach out to men and women who served this country and encourage them to go back to school and help them along the way and give them credit for their experience,” Christian said. “It’s the right thing to do, and it could really help some students.”