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Rolf Groseth, who was appointed Montana State University Billings chancellor last Friday by the Montana Board of Regents, was at work before 7 a.m. Monday, greeting a dozen Yellowstone County legislators and representative-elect Joanne Blyton of Joliet. The lawmakers turned out on a subzero morning for the third legislative forum at the Montana State University Downtown Campus, 208 N. Broadway.

Groseth said university system leaders like Gov. Brian Schweitzer's budget recommendations for higher education.

“We understand the legislative process that determines our funding has a lot of moving pieces,” Groseth told the lawmakers. “Our hope is we can retain as much of our House Bill 2 general funding as possible.”

Groseth added that if there's an opportunity for any long-range building legislation, replacement of the old science building is the top priority for Montana State University Billings. The science project ranks No. 2 in the whole system, behind a new University of Montana College of Technology.

Responding to a question from Sen. Jeff Essmann, Groseth said that Montana's University System has been working to address the mismatch between the state's high rate of high school graduation and low rate of grads going to college. Almost all the Montana University System growth in the past 10 years had been in two-year education, the chancellor said.

The MUS focus on two-year education involves working with employers, training workers and retraining workers for new jobs.

The Montana University System and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry have teamed up to collect data on work force development. According to their latest report, 74 percent of Montanans who graduated from the Montana University System in 2008-2009 found jobs in state within a year of graduating.

On average, graduates started at salaries of $29,105. Those completing certificates of applied science — programs that usually take less than a year of full-time study — the average starting salary was $22,303.

However, those earning two-year degrees had an average starting salary of $29,098, right at the average for all degrees.

Several careers with the highest starting salaries are in health care. Ninety-two percent of MUS health program graduates were Montanans and 81 percent of them found jobs in Montana within a year of graduation. Average starting salaries ranged from $97,919 for pharmacists to $19,641 for dental assistants.

Among the 641 associate degree recipients who got Montana jobs, 116 landed jobs in health care and landed jobs with an average starting salary of $42,000.

The statistics confirm that, even as Montana started feeling the effects of the worldwide recession in last year, the university system was successful in preparing Montanans for work in their home state. More than 82 percent of associate degree grads went to work in Montana as did 80 percent of certificate recipients, 73 percent of bachelor's degree grads and 75.6 percent of master's degree grads.

However, there is room for improvement and university leaders are working to make the system's “College Now!” goal a reality for more Montanans.