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Ron Larsen

Ron Larsen is the Interim Chancellor at MSUB.

Montana State University Billings' interim chancellor lobbied to remove the "interim" from his title on Friday.

Ron Larsen went through the same campus meetings as the other three candidates did earlier this week. That included a morning session with local media and an afternoon forum before faculty, staff and community members.

Larsen has been MSUB's interim chancellor since 2017, when he was appointed to come over from Bozeman and replace Mark Nook. He arrived amid sliding enrollments and challenging budget years.

On Friday, Larsen acknowledged those issues. Some on campus are tired, he said, and the work continues to turn things around. He kept coming back to one of the university's slogans.

"One thing that I've come to the conclusion pretty clearly on is that we have this tagline— 'access and excellence,'" he said.

MSUB has often touted its role as a destination for nontraditional students. Those are typically people who don't enter higher education right after high school. Many of them are already working and have families before they decide to go to college.

Around 40 percent of MSUB students are nontraditional. That's a role Larsen wants to emphasize.

“They are already coming to MSU Billings," he said. "We need to find out why. We need to find out what needs we are already meeting, and we just amplify that.”

One enrollment group that MSUB could use more of is full-time students. While MSUB has had large success with its dual-enrollment program, those are only part-time students. On the other side of town, City College is making enrollment gains.

But MSUB's main campus continues to lose full-time enrollment. To help reverse the trend, Larsen said the university has multiple retention programs in place to keep students at MSUB.

One such initiative, he said, was the elimination of developmental education courses for students lagging behind. Instead, students are placed into normal college-level courses but provided with extra assistance.

"That's been very effective," he said.

In addition, Larsen said MSUB is considering some "cohort" models that would group students together for class scheduling. The idea is to foster classmate relationships among the students.

Larsen's candidacy has the benefit of a year's experience at MSUB. He's also won the support of the faculty Academic Senate and other university backers.

An emphasis throughout the chancellor search has been longevity. MSUB has had four chancellors since 2010 and a number of other changes in administration.

Larsen said early on in his interim tenure that he was interested in the permanent job. He said Thursday that MSUB should embrace its nontraditional model to recruit into the future.

“That’s not going to change," he said. "So that means we need to find ways to respond to the very diverse student body that we get as an access institution.”


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.