MISSOULA — The Council on Education for Public Health gave its nod recently to a nationally accredited master’s program in public health at the University of Montana, making the school the first in the state to offer the degree.
Craig Molgaard, professor and chair of the School of Public and Community Health Sciences, announced the accreditation after an intensive site visit by the Council on Education.
“It’s the kind of thing that you strive to get,” Molgaard said of the accreditation. “We’ve been working on this for six years to get it done. It’s a big deal for a state that’s never had this before.”
Montana joins roughly 45 states nationally in offering the master’s of public health program. The program helps professional public health workers learn to identify community health trends while ensuring that essential services are in place.
While the accreditation is new, UM has been offering the program for six years. Launching the program and completing a self-review, along with that by the Council on Education, was part of the national accreditation process, Molgaard said.
“They let you start while you’re working on accreditation,” Molgaard said. “We’ve been in business for six years now and have 38 graduates to this point. We’ve been chugging along for a number of years.”
The program also has enrolled a growing number of undergraduate students working for a certification in the program, along with professional public health workers in far-flung communities across the state.
Jane Smiley, public health and safety administrator with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services in Helena, called the accreditation good for both the university and the state.
“This provides a wonderful opportunity for Montanans who work in the public health field,” Smiley said.
“I also believe over time the newly accredited program will significantly enhance and strengthen our current public health work force at both the state and local level.”
Disparities between master’s of public health programs across the states that offer them have dwindled in recent years, Molgaard said. The accreditation process has streamlined the programs, improving uniformity across intuitions.
At UM, Molgaard said, the program is designed as a campus-wide effort. It includes five core faculty members within the College of Pharmacy, along with many other faculty members from departments working with students pursuing an education in the public health field.
“Faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the program from the public health community in Montana – both regionally and nationally – worked extremely hard to achieve this accreditation,” Molgaard said. “We expect the people of our state to benefit immensely from our new program.”