Task Force on Two-Year Education in Montana
Interim Report to the Commissioner of Higher Education --November 2002
I. Best Practices in Two-Year Colleges
The primary characteristic of the best two-year colleges is responsiveness. In response to an ever-expanding range of individual, economic, and societal demands, they provide learning opportunities tailored to meet identified needs. The practices below derive from an article on the topic. The Task Force on Two-Year Education recommends them for adoption as guidelines to focus the efforts of two-year colleges in Montana.
1. The best two-year colleges provide a full range of educational services for adults—transfer courses and degrees (including articulated baccalaureate and graduate degrees delivered on-site) and short- and long-term programs for entry or re-entry into the workforce, certification, career advancement or enhancement, and career change.
2. The best two-year colleges are distinguished not only by their occupational/transfer programming but also by the way they deliver the product of learning. They tailor their methods and systems to adult needs through individualized attention, contextual learning experiences, and scheduling that accommodate work and child care demands.
3. The best two-year colleges are devoted to helping students overcome delays and difficulties in their learning. These colleges are masters in developmental education and remediation in “the basics” and often specialize in areas of unique need in their region—e.g., English language acquisition. Students grow confident they can learn in these two-year colleges and often stay to pursue two-year and four-year degrees.
4. The best two-year colleges collaborate with secondary schools to respond to special needs. They provide dual enrollment opportunities for highly qualified and motivated high school students, expediting students’ progress toward postsecondary education, reducing their expenses, and conserving the use of public funds. Some two-year colleges also function as alternative high schools for students whose interests or circumstances don’t “fit the mold” of the traditional high school. Some colleges offer course work preparing students for the G.E.D. and provide other adult education programs and services.
5. The best two-year colleges respond to individual learning needs as they emerge in their communities or society—e.g., programs for the elderly, welfare-to-work, homeland security, etc.
6. The best two-year colleges respond to established and emerging workforce development needs in their communities by providing degree programs in occupations essential to the health of the local and regional economies, as well as customized training to develop specific employee skills. Time-sensitive incumbent worker training is also a key to meeting the ever-changing demands of business and industry.
7. The best two-year colleges partner with regional businesses and agencies, assisting them to get started and grow through various incubation and expansion services, and relying on them for skilled faculty, authentic learning experiences, and meaningful program evaluation.
8. The best two-year colleges are the resource of choice in their communities for access to cutting-edge technology, cultural experiences, and the knowledge and expertise of the higher education system in their states.
II. Specific Operational Recommendations
In line with the best practices noted above, the Task Force on Two-Year Education also developed several interim recommendations to provide focus for the work of the two-year colleges with the intent of bringing some immediate benefits to students and communities.
1. Multi-tiered Pricing Structure. The Task Force appreciates the Regents’ effort to slow tuition increases and thereby hold down the cost of two-year education in the Montana University System during the past two biennia. The Task Force urges the Regents Tuition Committee to endorse this effort and to recommend the Regents continue to reduce the percent of the cost of education paid by two-year students until it reaches a percentage similar to that paid by students in peer states.
2. Start-Up Funds for Colleges of Technology. Due to limitations on finances and changing needs in the Montana job market, the Colleges of Technology normally lack sufficient budget flexibility to fund new program start-ups in a timely way. To assist the colleges in offering new programs responsive to the needs of the State and the service regions, the Task Force recommends the Board of Regents earmark a program start-up pool of $250,000 for new program development. The operation of the pool and criteria for eligibility may be worked out by OCHE in cooperation with the Colleges of Technology.
Start-Up Funds for Community Colleges. If similar conditions as noted prevail in the Community Colleges, the Task Force would also recommend to the respective Boards of Trustees that they create a start-up pool for new program development at their institutions. The operation of such a fund could be worked out between the Trustees and the administrations of the respective institutions.
3. Running Start Program. The Task Force recommends that, consistent with the provisions of MCA 20-9-706, representatives from units of the Montana University System and two-year institutions wishing to participate, convene to set a standard protocol guiding the process through which postsecondary institutions may form inter-local agreements with school districts and implement Running Start programs for 11th and 12th grade students. This group could explore conditions under which dual credit might be awarded.
4. Award of Credit for Experiential Learning. Many students come to two-year programs with education from legitimate non‑collegiate institutions [military, government, corporate training, etc.] whose programs have been evaluated by national faculty and been found credit-worthy. The Task Force recommends that all campuses adopt and use the credit recommendations published by the American Council on Education and the National Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction from the Board of Regents of the State of NY (NYSED) in evaluating prior learning experiences.
5. Public Information Initiative. With the historic predominance of baccalaureate institutions in Montana, the Task Force judges that citizens lack a clear picture of the postsecondary opportunities available through the community colleges, tribal colleges and colleges of technology. Therefore, the Task Force recommends that OCHE engage in a public information initiative to alert all Montanans, including middle and high school students and their parents, to these opportunities and to the multiple avenues they may pursue into the workforce in Montana
6. MUS Marketing of Two-Year Education. The Task Force concluded that citizens do not have sufficient information about two-year education opportunities available to them through the State’s public colleges and universities. As a result, the Task Force recommends OCHE work with institutions to devise a Statewide approach to marketing two-year education and to demonstrate how it matches Montana job market projections. Information on affordability and return on the educational investment would also help marketing efforts.
7. Community Involvement. The Task Force recommends that, following the successful models operating in Billings and Kalispell, each of the two-year campuses take steps to increase their involvement in community development activities in their locale. Campuses should invite local business and community leaders to join them to form collaborative roundtables or other communication devices by which business and community leaders can plan with postsecondary institutions for training, education or other services to meet priority economic and social needs in the immediate region.
8. Partnership Models. The Task Force recommends that two-year education representatives from each unit of the Montana University System and any other two-year institutions wishing to participate, convene to create templates for partnerships based on exemplary existing practices in Montana and to identify effective ways to coordinate dissemination and replication of these models.