Growing made-in-Montana higher education

April 20, 2009 / Comments (0)



Two stories follow. All about Montanans – traditional and nontraditional students – pursing Montana higher education opportunities.

For collective bargaining purposes, MEA-MFT now represents the faculty in all public Montana colleges and universities

Economy has college-bound students scaling back



Tribune Staff Writer – April 20, 2009


Centerville High School senior Tom Hove was ready for a change of scenery.


“I wanted to move out of state because I’m really tired of living here,” he said last week as he talked about his future. “But with the whole economy thing, I thought staying here and going to COT was a lot cheaper.”


Hove is one of four Centerville seniors who have decided to begin their college careers close to home. Kyla Butler, Natalie Young and Christian Brokl also are planning to attend MSU-Great Falls College of Technology. The four represent about 21 percent of their class. The Class C school is located about 10 miles southeast of Great Falls.


Centerville’s principal, Matt McCale, said he has seen more seniors staying close to home the last few years.

And he knows firsthand that the choice will save the families thousands of dollars. His 19-year-old daughter, Sarah, is attending Montana Tech in Butte, but will be coming back to MSU-Great Falls. She plans to finish her second year there and then apply to Montana State University-Bozeman College of Nursing.


“Basically it does come down to economics. We are putting down $18,000 — those are real numbers, not counting spending money,” he said. “Coming back here cuts it down by about 90 percent if we feed her ourselves, and she lives with us.”


McCale said it’s not only that MSU-Great Falls is more affordable, but they also have made themselves more enticing.

“COT has definitely beefed up what they do,” McCale said. “What better offering can you have?”


Enrollment backs that up. From last spring to this spring, MSU-Great Falls’ full-time equivalent students have increased nearly 15 percent.

“We believe that, recession aside, a large resource for that shift is to save money by starting here where tuition and fees alone are about $5,000 less for the two years (than a four-year university),” said MSU-Great Falls interim dean Joe Schaffer.


Schaffer also added that there has been a common culture in Montana where many kids choose which college to attend based on where their parents went — are they a Griz or a Bobcat?

“I don’t have data — I just have a feeling,” said Great Falls High counselor, Steve Bennetts. “It seems to me I have less people choosing out of state and more of the students thinking instate are choosing MSU-College of Technology.”


Bennetts added that statistics show that more and more jobs will require a post-secondary degree, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

For example, some are choosing a two-year program to become a physical therapy assistant, rather than going four years.

“And it’s a good job and in high demand,” he added.


Kyla Butler has that exact idea. She said her parents didn’t think she would go to college, but a recruiter at MSU-Great Falls convinced her that the school’s physical therapy assistant program would be a good fit.


“I’m going to start out as an assistant, and work my way up,” she said.


Many employers pay for physical therapist assistants to further their education, making it an even sweeter deal.

“Kids and parents are starting to figure this out — why go out of state for architecture when a student that graduates from Montana State University in architecture could probably get a job anywhere in the state,” Bennetts said.


That’s the conclusion that Natalie Young came to as well.


“COT was cheaper. I knew I wanted to go into dental hygiene and it was here,” she said.


Brokl will transfer his first-year credits to the University of Montana.


He plans to complete the core curriculum, which is made up of 30 semester credits in six different academic areas that are transferable to all two-year and four-year publicly funded colleges and universities in Montana.


“And with the work we’ve been doing with common course numbering, it’s going to be a lot easier for students to transfer,” Schaffer said.

There are already 16 disciplines that have common course numbering. That means whether a student takes the course at MSU-Great Falls or at the University of Montana, the number will be the same.

Brokl thought he’d attend the University of Montana, but because his mom works at MSU-Great Falls, he gets an even bigger break on tuition. Plus, by living at home, he’ll save the money he would have spent on dorms.


“And I’m looking at buying a new vehicle, so staying here is going to help me with that,” he said.

Additional Facts


Where to find Montana College 101

This spring edition of Montana College 101 includes all of the useful tools high school kids and their parents need to start planning for their futures. It has been distributed to 216 Montana high schools and middle schools. If you are a high school or middle school student and would like a copy, check with your guidance counselor.

The magazine also can be found at Albertsons, Kmarts and Super 1 grocery stores throughout northcentral Montana.

The complete publication also is available online at


As economy slows, students switch from 4-year schools to 2-year schools


Of The Gazette Staff – April 20, 2009


Erin Langston already had a degree when she enrolled in Montana State University Billings College of Technology in 2007.

Langston, 27, had a bachelor’s degree in pre-professional health science from the University of Montana at Western in Dillon but was uncertain what she could do with it.

Because some friends enjoyed their jobs in radiologic technology, she decided to train for that career.


After looking at several rad tech programs around the state, she selected Billings COT because its students begin to work with patients right away.

Langston will graduate from the two-year program on May 2 as one of 14 graduates.


Her story illustrates the variety of students attending two-year colleges in Montana.


Community colleges and colleges of technology not only attract students directly from high school, they also welcome “reverse transfer” students who have started at a four-year school and then transfer to two-year schools.


Others, like Langston, already have finished a degree before starting two-year programs, usually to train for specific jobs.

The MSU Billings College of Technology has 22 students who earned bachelor’s degrees before enrolling at the West End campus, said Tammi Miller, interim assistant dean.

That’s up from eight students five years ago.


The COT’s total, headcount enrollment for spring semester is 1,196 students, which include 543 part-time and 653 full-time students.

Two-year schools may become “second graduate schools” as they help students retool for the job market, said John Cech, COT dean.

Some of those post-graduate students want to sharpen skills to be more competitive in a job they already have, while others want a new career.

Computer programming draws these types of students, as do nursing, radiologic technology, medical coding, insurance billing, welding and auto technology, Cech said.

A drafting and design technology program brought Valerie Peterson to the College of Technology.


A 1974 Billings West High graduate, Peterson, 52, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell College in Iowa before working in molecular biology research at out-of-state universities for several years.


She came back to Billings recently to be near her family.


Knowing there would be few job opportunities in her field in Billings, she decided to change careers.


In January, she started the drafting and design technology program that trains students to work in architectural, engineering and construction companies after graduation.

Miles Community College in Miles City also has students who are changing careers.


Tommy Gonzales, 43, is one of four male students in a class of about 40 nursing students in Miles’ two-year registered-nursing program.

Gonzales has a bachelor’s in forestry management from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. While working as a wildland fire program manager for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Lame Deer, he decided to become a nurse because his sister and some of his friends were nurses.


He chose MCC because it is only 60 miles from a small ranch that he owns south of Rosebud and is less expensive than some other schools.

The valedictorian of last year’s graduating class at Miles had a master’s degree in audiology before coming to MCC for a nursing degree, said Stefani Hicswa, college president.

People with degrees return to school for a variety of reasons.


“Boomer reboot” is a common one, Hicswa said. That means people in well-established careers seek something else because they are bored with their current job, lost a job, want more pay or want to downshift before retirement.


Miles also has reverse transfer students on campus.


Last year 22 students who had first enrolled in a four-year campus then came to MCC, Hicswa said.

“That’s a lot for us,” she said.


Miles has a total headcount enrollment this spring of 530 and a full-time equivalent enrollment of 446 students.

Some students from small towns who go to the University of Montana, Montana State University or Dickinson State University in North Dakota out of high school are overwhelmed by a large campus, large community, large classes, Hicswa said.


After a semester they may come to Miles, where they do well. After completing a two- year degree, they transfer to a four-year school.

Although Dawson Community College President Jim Cargill didn’t have an exact count, he said that the Glendive school has a “substantial” number of students who go to a four-year campus for a semester or two and than transfer to Dawson.


Homesickness and finances are among the reasons.


The cost of tuition and fees at Dawson for an in-district student is about $2,700, or about half of what it costs at MSU or UM.

“We’re quite reasonable,” he said.


Dawson has an enrollment this year of about 450 FTE students and a total headcount of about 1,175 students spring semester.

Nontraditional students receive more than a degree when they return to school.


When Valerie Peterson attended Grinnell College right out of high school she lived on campus and had a traditional college experience.

She’s enjoyed a different kind of atmosphere at the MSU Billings COT, where her classmates are students of all ages.

“They are people with a purpose,” she said. “They really know why they are there.”


In her general math and English classes are students in carpentry and power-plant programs.

“I enjoy the diversity and different life stories,” she said.


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