Sep 19 2012


By Royce C. Engstrom

UM President

As The University of Montana began a new academic year, our two-year college started out with a new name: Missoula College.

In the past 10 years, Missoula College has seen the highest growth rate in full-time student enrollment numbers of any two-year college in Montana – 120 percent. Formerly known as the College of Technology, Missoula College now serves about 2,500 students every autumn and spring semester. Their education quickly puts them into the workforce.

The success stories are many. Here are just a few:

  • Robert Potts completed his degree in Energy Technology in fall 2010 and now works in Harlowton as a wind operations and maintenance technician for Invenergy. He found out about the energy technology program when he saw an ad in his local Miles City newspaper.

    • Alison Sweeney completed her associate degree in Energy Technology in 2011. A sixth-generation Montanan, she now works installing solar thermal and hydronic heating systems with Liquid Solar Systems.

    • Sgt. Matt Winn was deployed to Iraq from Fort Hood in 2006 and returned in 2008. Last May, he received his associate degree in applied science in radiologic technology. He’s pursuing further training and education and already works as a radiologic technologist.

What isn’t new about Missoula College is the facility, and most concerning is the East Campus, next to Sentinel High School. It was first developed in 1968 when the college had about 700 students. Today, we’re three times bigger and – although the education is top-rate – the learning environment falls far short of today’s standards.

Students attend classes in trailers and modular units. They can hear lectures from other classes across thin room dividers. They may have to get advising in the hallways, as we lack office space.

Ours is the only two-year college in Montana that has not had a significant upgrade during its lifetime. It’s time to change that. The University’s and the Board of Regents’ first priority for new construction requests during the next legislative session is funding for a state-of-the-art building, to be located at the South Campus, along Arthur and South avenues.

The location is important. Here’s what you should know:

The South Campus Master Plan was developed and approved by the Montana Board of Regents in 2007 after 18 months of study. We held 32 meetings, all open to the public, and listened to hundreds of comments from citizens. In the end, the message was clear: We must have a coordinated plan for our growth for the next 50 years. We must fulfill our academic mission and preserve beautiful and accessible green space at the same time.

We are not just building a facility for Missoula College – we are building the first building of the next decades of well-planned growth of UM.

We examined Fort Missoula as a possible location, since we have the college’s West Campus and its industrial technology programs near there, but we found it inadequate for our other two-year programs. The site has challenges. It’s on the flood plain, and Fort Missoula is listed on the National Register, which limits our options for development. More important are the people: East Campus students take many classes on our mountain campus at the base of Mount Sentinel. The two-year college needs to offer those students easy and quick access between the two locations. Most important, we simply cannot take a fragmented approach to the long-term planning for UM.

For now, the University Golf Course will remain. Building a new Missoula College facility means we will have to modify part of the course. We welcome suggestions for how we can do that and serve recreation and education simultaneously. On Wednesday, Oct. 3, you’ll have an opportunity to talk with us about two-year education and the South Campus plan. We will host an open house at 5:15 p.m. in the clubhouse at the University Golf Course. Watch for our invitation to the community.

At this and other events, there will be a great deal of focus on the need for a new Missoula College building. But let’s remember that the real promise and the future lie in our students, and the kind of facility and educational experience we can offer them.