Remarks to the Montana Board Regent on the work of the Access Committee, one of the three committees working on behalf of Shared Leadership, by Diane Fladmo, member, Access to Education Committee, Shared Leadership and vice chair of the Montana Board of Public Education. Highlighted items were presented; non-highlighted items provide additional information on the topic but were not presented orally at the November 18, 20004 meeting due to time limitations.)


The initial meeting of the Access to Education Committee was held November 3, capably chaired by Don Peoples, C.E.O. of MSE, and was well attended by committee members representing the state geographically with diverse areas of experience, expertise and interests. We also enjoyed the support of an august advisory committee, with K-12 and higher education representatives who were armed with a wealth of information about the issue of access.

At the meeting, we had the privilege of a presentation by Dr. David Longanecker, the executive director (WICHE). Prior to the meeting, committee members received a packet of information prepared by OCHE staff: The following were key points I gained from the information presented by Dr. Longanecker and the informational packet:


1. Education attainment: While Montana has enjoyed a reasonable high school average completion rate, it has slipped in the past decade and is particularly low for Montana's American Indians.


Newer data from the Montana Office of Public Instruction on the completion rate for Montana's students show that American Indian students' rate remains approximately twenty points below the state average.


Montana's college matriculation rate, that is high school freshmen enrollment in any US college within four year is 42% compared to the top states rate of 52%.


Montanas educational attainment levels compared to other states are slipping, including high school graduation and bachelors degrees. Our ranking for completion of bachelor's degrees slipped from 23rd to 30th between 1989 and 2000. Montana clearly lags in developing and retaining college-trained workers.


Montana's percentage of first time, full-time freshman completing a BA within 6 years is 42%, compared to 64% for highest performing states.


2. Montana is suffering a "brain drain" with an influx of less-educated individuals and a corresponding net loss of our baccalaureate and advanced degree holders.


3. Higher education retention: Montanans are known for a great work ethic. National reports give Montana consistently high marks for its academic preparation of its students at the secondary level, but our retention of students in higher educations not only lags well behind top states but also is well below the national average. For example, the percentage of 1st year community college returning the 2nd year is 44%, compared to 61% for top states. Rates for some of our neighboring states are: South Dakota - 57%, Wyoming 55%. The U.S. average is 54.8%).


The percentage of freshmen attending Montana four-year colleges returning for second year is 67%, compared to 84% for highest performing states. (Other states, Wyoming 78%, North Dakota - 71.5%, South Dakota 69.7%, Nebraska, 76.2%, Wisconsin 80.9% US average 73.6%,)


Quality of Education System: While Montana generally enjoys high scores for its secondary preparation, recent data shows troubling trends. According to Education Trust, Inc., 1 in 4 secondary classrooms are taught by teachers lacking either a major or minor in subject area. (High poverty schools and high minority schools are far more likely to be taught by teachers out of their field of expertise.)


Economic Issues and State Support of Higher Education:Research shows that individuals, families, households, cities, and states with the most formal education have prospered during the last 30 years. Cities and states with the fewest college educated adults have seen per capita income growth rates fall below the national averages. Market forces based on educational attainment have been, and continue to aggressively reallocate income and living standards for people, their families, cities and states.


In 1973, Montana invested $11.54 per $1000 of personal income in higher education. By 2003, Montana's investment effort had dropped to $6.74 per $1000 of personal income. This is a reduction of 41% during the era where higher education has become the dominant factor in the growth in personal incomes and living standards.


Montana's per capita personal income has suffered during the Human Capital Economy:

In 1973 per capital income was 96% of average for US, ranking 29th. By 2001, Montana per capita personal income fallen to 79% of national average, ranking 47th.


Montana State appropriations make up 33.1% of the funding for baccalaureate degrees with the average for the WICHE states being 42.9%


Affordability and Financial Assistance:The information presented seems to clearly indicate that rising tuition and low average incomes have put higher education out of reach for many Montanans.


This creates evidence for increased need-based aid. According to 2002 data, the amount Montana provided to low-income students for every $1 of Pell grants $.07, while the top states provided $.94 for every $1 of Pell grant funds received.


The share of income that poorest families need to pay for tuition at lowest-priced colleges in Montana is 22% compared with the tops states rate of 8%.


According to WICHE, Montana also lags significantly behind in the need-based financial assistance with Montana providing an average of $62 in need-based aid per student, with the WICHE average being $238, and the U.S. average being $316


Over the past decade, Montanan's share of income needed to pay for college expenses after financial aid has increase from 23 to 28% at community colleges and 24% to 31% at public 4 year institutions.


This may account for the fact that a very small percentage of working-age adults are enrolled part-time in college-level education or training. According to a report issued by the National Center Public Policy and Higher Education, Montana is the lowest performing state in the country on this measure and it has consistently performed very poorly in this area over the past decade.


This becomes even more disconcerting when looking at Global statistics which indicate that world leaders in high education attainment are: Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, and Korea. The U.S. falls in the Second tier with Australia, Belgium, France, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and UK.


With that summary of the research and background information received by the committee, I-ll move on the discuss agenda of our first committee meeting.


The first part of the committee agenda gave an opportunity for committee members to raise issues of concern in the area of access. The following is an unofficial summary of concerns raised by committee members:


1.       Preparation (social, financial, academic) is often inadequate to meet the needs of Montana students contributing to a high attrition rate.


2.       To improve access, we much increase commitment to take better advantage of our two-year and technical schools, including more and better career planning.


3.       Student debt load is restrictive and prohibitive.


4.       Transfer of credit must be improved. A core class at one school should meet the requirements oat another.


5.       We must improve partnerships, including P-20 education, and with the private sector.


6.       We must market the benefits of an education to our students and citizens.


7.       This is a correlation between lack of educational attainment and crime, which provides further motivation for improvement.

8.       We must empower our youth early with the idea that higher education opportunities are attainable.


9.       Counselors in k-12 play a crucial role but they are too few to meet the needs of our students and the existing counselors face other priorities related to their job assignments.


10.   There is not enough need-based aid.


Our committee members were resolute in their belief that our efforts must result in action that will improve education access.


During the afternoon sessions, the campus advisory committee shared data and information about access and affordability. While some of the information was campus specific, much pertained to the system as a whole, providing a sound foundation for further discussions on the actions that will need to be taken to improve access. What follows is a summary of the comments by members of the advisory committee:


1. The infrastructure needs to be improved to prepare youth for postsecondary education.


  1. We don't have the resources and infrastructure to prepare our youth for a college education. As a system, we do a pretty good job of preparing those students who have identified post-secondary education as a goal. These students tend to come from middle to upper income families. Generally speaking, these students and their families support post-secondary education as part of their core values. Typically, paying for college is not an issue, nor is academic preparation. We tend to fail with those students from lower income families. These students oftentimes don't have the support networks in place to prepare for colleges. Because of unique geographic characteristics in Montana, we have multiple, low-income areas spread out across the state. Most of these areas don't have an institute of post-secondary education nearby, nor are there population centers in the area. These characteristics tend to translate into features that don't prepare our youth for college: low income families don't tend to save for college, low income areas don't have community resources to support potential students, a college education is not a key family value and support is minimal, logistic and cultural barriers tend to pop up, and the lack of high-paying, local jobs lessens the perceived value of a college education.


  1. We aren't taking full advantage of our two-year and community colleges. Statistics show that 84% of Montana jobs require a 2-year degree or less. Yet only 17% of post-secondary students attend a 2-year or community college. If we accept this percentage as true, Montana will continue to experience "brain drain." If there are not jobs requiring a 4-year or advanced degree, Montanans will leave the state to find them. This would explain the influx of less-educated people into the state, with a corresponding net loss of our baccalaureate and advanced degree holders. To take better advantage of our 2-year programs, a core shifting of our thought process must occur. That shift would be towards career counseling and could, potentially, have a huge impact on our 4-year schools.


  1. The high debt-load of our students keeps many Montanans from accessing a post-secondary education. The average Montana baccalaureate graduate across the entire MUS leaves school with an average debt load of $18,562. The average for advanced degrees is $31,290 (left school in 2003). The combined average is just over $20,000. At 5% over 10 years, that's a monthly payment of $212. With Montana wages being at or near the bottom compared to the rest of the United States, this is a huge issue for Montana borrowers. All indications are that borrower indebtedness will get worse not better.


  1. The transfer of credit is not set up in a way that encourages students to enroll and persist at our schools. Transfer of credit is a complex issue. Undergraduate students who have completed, with a cumulative grade-point average of 2.0 (C) on a four-point scale, an approved general education program of between 30 and 45 lower division credit hours at one of the institutions noted above and who transfer to another of those institutions will be deemed to have met the lower division general education requirements of the campus to which the students have transferred. There are a variety of complexities that complicate the transfer issue, however. Changes to a student's major, remedial or non-college level courses, and credit that is accepted, but not towards the fulfillment of a general education core, degree, or graduation requirement, can all result in confusion and complicate the transfer process.


  1. The lack of partnerships creates opportunities for students to fall through the cracks. While not a weakness, partnerships can always be better utilized. For example, does the MUS work closely with high school counselors in career counseling? Do we take full advantage of interns and mentors within the private sector? Is visiting a college campus part of each school district's basic requirements? Do public education budget levels allow for enough counselors?


  1. Our systems are not always user-friendly. Too often, we focus on what's best for ourselves. But are we really thinking about our students? Are we offering classes at times students can attend? Do we have daycare for our students with children? Is there sufficient parking? Do we make the transfer process too difficult? Do we create a campus environment that welcomes students from all ethnical backgrounds? Do we provide support for first-generation students or students with unique issues or concerns? Do we have classrooms that are conducive to learning and obtaining success? How are our facilities? Where are our facilities and are there options for place-bound students?


  1. We don't successfully tout the benefits of an education. How are we selling our investment in higher education? We tend to think of the cost of an education as an expense, not an investment. What can we do to change this perception? Are there themes or messages we can be delivering? An investment in education benefits everyone the student, the family, the state, even the school itself. How do we market education and sell the benefits of an education?


  1. It's hard to see all the benefits of an education. Even at an anecdotal level, we know that an educated person is more likely to have a job, not to mention a well-paying job. We sometimes forget that a person without an education is more likely to wind up in the penal system. This costs the state money and, generally speaking, worsens statistics in virtually every negative reporting category.


  1. Many students and families don't believe an education is within their reach. Some students know they will attend college from a very early age. Others have life-challenges that prevent them from understanding that college is a real possibility. Few individuals will undertake an endeavor if they dont believe a positive outcome is likely. We must reach those students and families with the right message. We must empower them to believe in a post-secondary education. With that message that it is attainable.


  1. Reaching young students is difficult and expensive. We know that early awareness and outreach programs can make the difference for students unfamiliar with college. Even for those who want to attend, early awareness will better prepare them academically, financially, and emotionally. We need to support programs that reach out to our youth and their families at an early age.


  1. At the junior and high school level, we don't have enough people helping our youngsters with college and career planning. Especially for a first-generation college student, high school counselors play a huge role in the decision making process. Yet our high schools frequently have but one counselor for 300-400 students. Some schools don't even have a counselor. And counselors must often prioritize their days between crisis management and career/college counseling. We must find a way to provide support to high schools - whether that support is by funding for additional counselors, utilizing community volunteers or mentors, or special projects or system that help guide and steer our students to college.


  1. The state of Montana very limited need-based aid. Study after study proves that paying for college remains the single, largest barrier to obtaining an education. Studies also show that the cost of an education is not a barrier for the highest income quartile. There is no unmet need for students coming from families in the highest income quartile (unmet need is defined as the total cost of attendance minus all forms of aid, including loans). Low-income students, however, have unmet need. At MSU Bozeman, 43% of students applying for financial aid have unmet need. According to a report of unmet need in a 1999 article in the Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY, all families with income of less than $50,000 have at least some unmet need. Today, some 5 years later, it's safe to say the picture has gotten worse, not better. The state needs to improve its need-based aid.


This committee session was productive!


Some of you may know that I share the privilege of co-chairing the P-20 committee with Regent Lynn Hamilton. The P-20 initiative, chartered by the State Board of Education, aims to identify means by which citizens of the state are enabled to attain the skills and knowledge they need to contribute successfully to Montanas workforce and society by strengthening the links in educational system from preschool through graduate school. The fact that there is strong alignment between these undertakings should be no surprise.


All three initiatives identified by the Regents for early implementation align strongly with the P-20 Committee mission, including:

Workforce Training and Education

Bring business, industry, government, and two-year colleges together to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the state's two-year college system including specific recommendations for changes in operations, resources, and curricula to meet the state's future needs. The plan will consider options for campus specialization, standardizing programs in high-demand occupational areas, creating career pathways systems for occupational training, and better integration into the state's myriad workforce programs.


Promote and Enhance Access to Postsecondary Education

Implement programs which promote the value of and remove barriers to postsecondary education for Montana's citizens.


Distance and Online Learning

Create a Montana University On-line System to centralize and coordinate distance learning throughout the university system.


Improvement of Workforce Education, smoothing institutional and social barriers to postsecondary education, and overcoming the problems of distance and mobility through improved online learning opportunities all contribute to the P-20 goals.


P-20 is a Partner in Shared Leadership in that its focused efforts to create a supportive environment for a readiness for and availability of postsecondary opportunities for all contribute directly to the eventual success of our economy, our society, and the strength and health of our institutions and individual citizens.


The alignment between the Shared Leadership Program and the P-20 Initiative is natural and mutually supportive working in partnership to achieve the same goals.


I believe that through Shared Leadership Initiatives, including those of the Access

to Education Committee, will be strengthened through the structures and opportunities for collaboration P-20. If access is to be improved, efforts must begin for our students early in their education and working together, we can bring these our plans to improve Montana's educational attainment and economy to fruition.


Although nothing has been finalized or adopted by our committee, there are areas that will be discussed at our upcoming meeting including, but likely not limited to:


1.       The improvement of state need-based aid programs that would make a significant and meaningful difference for low-income Montanans and their respective participation and completion rates in post-secondary education. Presently, the State's only true need-based aid program is the Montana Higher Education Grant. In academic year 2003, the State gave out less than one million dollars in need-based aid (much of that was from federal matching dollars). While programs such as the Montana Tuition Assistance Program and Work Study help many Montanans, they are not need based. Compared to the rest of the United States, Montana delivers an average of only $62 of need-based aid per student whereas the national average is $316. Need-based aid has been proven to increase enrollment and improve completion rates. Raising our need-based aid to at least the national average would be a significant and meaningful step to improving access to education.


2.       Creating a learning environment that encourages and takes advantage of our two- year and community colleges.In Montana and across the United States, two-year and community colleges are generally less expensive than 4-year schools. Many of the students attending two-year schools do so because of the proximity and social atmosphere of the school (located in the community, not as intimidating, etc.). Additionally, most estimates indicate that the majority of jobs in Montana require something less than a 4-year degree. Is the message we're sending to students creating an unintentional barrier by steering the bulk of our students to a 4-year school? Finally, many states have a process in place that encourages (both from a system and financial standpoint) those students desiring to continue their education to transfer to a state 4-year school. The partnership between 2 and 4-year schools allows for a better matching of career aspirations and a degree of control over student indebtedness. Both of these factors play a huge role in student access to education.


3.       Implementing a seamless transfer of credit process that encourages students to enroll and persist in college. Montana faces a large access barrier (perhaps perceived) due to the issues surrounding transfer of credit. High school students taking college-level courses, students attending a technical or community college, and even students transferring between our 4-year university system schools have issues with the transfer of credit process. Too often, students believing they have satisfied a particular requirement learn they must retake a class or earn less credit than they had understood or desired. A student should never walk away from a college education because it's simply too difficult to transfer or it's going to cost too much money to retake certain classes. Taking college-level classes in high school can both prepare a student for the rigors of college and also minimize a student's dependence upon financial aid. Just as importantly, it can instill the confidence in a student that he or she can succeed at the next level.


4.       Implementing new system and improving existing systems that encourages and prepares our college-eligible for a post-secondary education (academically, socially, and economically). The system should take advantage of public, community, and private partnerships and should inform and empower all Montanans to attend college.Montana has some excellent programs and entities working to prepare our youth for college: GEAR UP, TRIO, SAF's Outreach and MCIS programs are just a few examples. At the high school level, counselors can play a huge role in preparing and supporting a student's college decision. The system breaks down because we simply don't have the resources or partnerships in place to reach all of Montana's youth and especially at an early age. Because of economic challenges, some Montanans simply don't believe college is an option. Others aren't supported by their families or communities. In these situations, the lack of early awareness programs, mentors, community partnerships, or even a high school counselor is often the reason a student doesn't progress to post-secondary education. Too often, students don't know about financial aid or the process. Even when they do, students frequently miss out on aid because they miss deadlines or don't apply early enough. The lack of a system that informs, encourages, and prepares our youth for college is a huge access barrier in Montana.


5.       Implementing or improving systems that reduces the debt load of Montanans, taking greater advantage of career planning, public/private partnerships, and private scholarships.Relative to per capita income, the cost to attend a Montana public university is significant. The state is well below the average of comparable states with respect to the amount of state appropriations provided to our public universities (33.1% verses 42.9% at 4-year schools, 18.9% verses 36.6% at 2-year schools). This high tuition, low aid model results in Montana students leaving school with burdensome debt loads. Of those who borrow, the average debt load of a baccalaureate student is just over $20,000. Many individuals are simply unwilling to take on this type of debt. As an aside, if Montana could take full advantage of our 2- year and community colleges, the issue of debt load might be significantly reduced.


Thank you for the opportunity to serve and report on the Access to Education Committee. It is my pleasure to serve toward the worthwhile effort. I appreciate the opportunity and value your leadership.