This year, Montana’s unified system of higher education, the Montana University System, turned 50. It didn’t happen with a lot of fanfare but rather with the quiet resolve of a system focused on its core purpose – delivering an affordable, accessible, and high-quality postsecondary education in a way that meets the needs and interests of students and the state. 

Our celebration is our day-in, day-out success in the classroom, in the labs, in our many applied program areas, in our concert halls and performance centers, and on the field. Our celebration is shared with the thousands of MUS alumni who drive the state’s economy, lead our businesses, shape the non-profit and public sector, and contribute to research, policy, and scholarship, supporting Montana’s strong economy and excellent quality of life. 

As we reach this milestone, reflecting on the last 50 years and positioning the MUS and our state for the next 50, I’m grateful to the many citizens of Montana who have volunteered their time and talents to serve as a member of the Montana Board of Regents. I’m also thankful to the Commissioners before me who successfully guided the MUS during times of prosperity and challenge.

Today, I can look back and say that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of all the MUS has accomplished over the past 50 years. Through a unified system focused solely on advancing the mission of higher education, the MUS has expanded opportunities for students across the state, streamlined services, strengthened policies and partnerships, and provided a greater range of programs and benefits than would otherwise have been possible. 

We’ve been able to achieve these successes by leveraging the unique opportunities that present themselves at the system-wide level, including coordinating budgets and data, replicating successful programs and practices at scale, catalyzing new innovations based on shared needs, and providing opportunities and experiences to students from all corners of Montana. 

The results of this coordinated action at the system level provide real and tangible value to students and the state. For example, in the past few years alone, despite living through a global pandemic, the MUS has responded to state-wide needs by:

  • Establishing a centralized application process and a single interface for students and families to learn about degrees and certificates available across the state;
  • Expanding free dual enrollment opportunities to high school students; 
  • Launching the Montana 10 student success initiative that will lower the cost of obtaining a degree and the time to graduation for students; 
  • Expanding common course numbering to allow a student at one campus to easily determine how a course will transfer to another campus; and
  • Launching and expanding a single online course catalog to provide expanded learning opportunities for students across the state, and more. 

All these efforts make it easier for students to succeed in the classroom and easier for Montana employers to access a skilled workforce. 

This is not to say the MUS’s successes are solely tied to system-wide efforts. Many parts of our system function best at the classroom, department, college, or university level. Those contributions to our shared success come from students, staff, faculty, and community members who are building tomorrow’s citizens and leaders. For those efforts, I see our job at the system as empowering and supporting our campus communities to shape their work in the way that works best for the context of their community, culture, and needs, all while striving toward our shared purpose and goals. 

As a system with a coordinated message and voice, we’ve been able to do more to meet changing needs, build flexibility and resilience into our systems and programs, explore collective opportunities, and increase efficiencies. In turn, those efforts help us deliver on the promise of higher education – empowering, equipping, and inspiring students, faculty, and researchers to lead us to even brighter and more prosperous days ahead.