Message from Montana Commissioner of Higher Education, Clayton Christian
“Providing opportunity is an essential component of everything we do in the MUS.”
Welcome to the first issue of our redesigned MUSings newsletter! I hope you enjoy the updated format featuring news and events from my office and across the Montana University System. The new MUSings will arrive monthly and is designed to increase awareness of key system initiatives and to provide insights and stories from each campus.
The updates are also intended to make MUSings more reader friendly and engaging. These updates are reflected in everything from the images to the redesigned layout. I’m especially pleased with the image chosen for the MUSings banner. The image is a beautiful portrayal of Montana’s vast landscape and, in many ways, represents how the path of higher education leads to opportunities that are as limitless as Montana’s horizon.
As students return to campuses across the state for fall semester, I’m reminded that providing opportunity is an essential component of everything we do in the MUS. Whether it’s providing students with access to an affordable education and the mechanisms and supports they need to be successful or the ability to conduct cutting edge research with world class faculty, MUS colleges and universities are providing opportunity every day.
As Commissioner of Higher Education, I’m honored to be able to share these opportunities with students, parents, business and industry leaders, governmental partners, legislators, and communities. In the MUS, we know that an investment in higher education – whether that’s a traditional four-year degree or a short-term certificate – pays dividends, but as our nation becomes more divided about the value of higher education, it’s more important than ever that we share how higher education transforms lives and plays a significant role in Montana’s economy.
According to recent data, nearly 80% of Montana residents who graduate from a postsecondary institution in Montana will stay and work in Montana after graduation. These graduates drive the state’s economy by earning above median wages and higher incomes. MUS institutions also drive Montana’s economy by training tomorrow’s workforce. As Montana’s economy continues to expand, the demand for educated and highly trained workers remains incredibly high. The MUS is meeting this demand through systemwide initiatives such as the Accelerate Montana rapid workforce training program, leadership and management of the federally funded ($6.5 million/year) Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education (CTE) grant program, and the privately funded Montana’s Future at Work initiative, which will build pipeline of Montana high school students who pursue trades and technical careers.
In addition to supporting systemwide workforce efforts, my office continues to focus on increasing the number of residents who attend an MUS institution, eliminating barriers to college attainment, improving retention rates, expanding dual enrollment and CTE programs, and ensuring the efficient use of system resources. We are also continuing to partner with leaders, businesses, government agencies, K-12 leaders, and elected officials to ensure that more Montanans have access to an MUS education and that businesses have the employees they need to be successful. Below, I’ve highlighted several notable updates on many of these efforts in my office.
Although Fall 2022 numbers are not yet available, we are seeing some incredibly encouraging trends. Multiple campuses are showing signs of growth in enrollment, with the most crucial weeks yet to come over August and September as students return to campus. Systemwide, campus applications are up substantially for the second consecutive year. Also exciting is the number of students choosing to utilize the free statewide application through Apply Montana. As applications submitted through Apply Montana continue to grow, it’s clear that more residents are choosing to apply to one or multiple campuses across the system utilizing this free and streamlined resource.
That growth highlights the tremendous amount of support we have received not just from our campuses, but also our partners across multiple state agencies and in communities throughout Montana. I’m grateful to our campus leaders and enrollment teams for their hard work and dedication to Montana’s students, as well as their perseverance over the last several years.
College and Career Access Portal
I’m also particularly proud of OCHE’s work in developing the Apply Montana College and Career Access Portal, which stemmed from a set of shared policy goals between the MUS and the education section of the Legislature’s appropriations subcommittee. Not only can students submit a single application to all campuses within the system, but through Apply Montana students can also learn about degrees and certificates and how those degrees connect to specific careers. The Portal also includes valuable information on how students can start down their career path right away, the long-term earning potential for a given career, how to pay for college, details on receiving federal financial aid, and scholarships available for students here in Montana. Please help us spread the word about the powerful tools available through Apply Montana.
OCHE is continuing to support and expand Montana 10, the system-led student success and retention effort that is designed to dramatically increase the number of Montanans with two-year and four-year degrees. Montana 10 focuses on 10 high-impact student support measures to increase on-time graduation rates, reduce student debt, and lower the cost of degree for students and the state.
Montana 10’s first cohorts began in 2020 at Helena College, Missoula College, and the University of Montana. Remarkably, after the first three semesters of the program, Montana 10 reported a 23.5% increase in retention and more than double the on-time graduation rate for Montana 10 students over their similarly situated peers. I’m pleased that Montana State University-Billings and City College will welcome Montana 10 cohorts this upcoming semester and that additional cohorts are expected at several additional institutions in Fall 2023.
I’m happy to report that the Montana University System remains a regional leader for research. In the last five years research in the MUS increased by astonishing 67%, and, in 2021, MUS institutions conducted more than $338M in externally funded research. This is an incredible milestone for our institutions. As many already know, both Montana State University and the University of Montana are now designated as “R1” research institutions – the highest designation for research institutions in the nation. With incredible faculty and world-class researchers across the MUS, I’m confident that we can continue to grow and expand opportunities for advancing research that supports communities and businesses throughout Montana.
Seamless System Technology Initiative
Leveraging system assets and improving educational experiences across the system continues to be a significant priority in my office. Over the last year, OCHE has significantly expanded the availability of online courses, regardless of campus or location. As noted in a recent article by MUS Director of Academic Policy and Research, Joe Thiel, expanding the reach and effectiveness of our MUS programs is critically important to ensuring that students, especially those in rural areas, can thrive in their careers and in life. OCHE has partnered with Quottly to provide this powerful and efficient course and program sharing platform, which will further improve opportunities for students.
My office is also leading efforts to provide a single learning management system (LMS) for all students and courses throughout the MUS. A single LMS will modernize and improve the quality of service and create a single, consistent, digital learning environment across the system. It will also create a significantly improved experience for staff who interface with these systems. Thank to you to everyone who is participating in the planning and implementation efforts for this project. Your expertise and input are essential to ensuring we can provide the best available product to our students for many years to come.
I wish everyone a smooth start to the 2022-2023 academic year.