Dec 12, 2011 6:05 PM by Marnee Banks (Helena)

MT university officials aim to "rebrand" community colleges

The Montana University System has been working to expand 2 year education in the state. So after years of work, the College!NOW initiative is reaching a significant milestone.

Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns says the initiative will culminate Thursday and Friday in Bozeman with a Rebranding Summit.

"What what we have needed for many years in Montana is the growth of and acceptance of colleges, community colleges, across the state," Stearns says.

25% of Montanans interested in higher education are going to a 2 year college, this is well below the national average of 45%. Stearns says this is the reason for the College!NOW initiative.

"Building blocks have been put in place to make the Montana University System expand and redefine itself as both a University System and a College System, that work together in really unprecedented ways," Stearns says.

The University System received a grant from the Lumina Foundation to launch College!NOW. Through the grant Montana's 2 year colleges have been working to increase enrollment and achievement for the past 4 years.

Community College Commissioner John Cech says a big part of the College!NOW initiative is rebranding the colleges.

"We're dealing with changing the culture not only within the institutions but within the communities, their perceptions of the institutions. We are changing 60 years of embedded culture in this state with respect to 2 year education," Cech says.

He says they've drafted expanded mission statements, so it's not just a cosmetic fix but a fundamental change in the way Montana approaches education.

From the College!NOW website:

College!NOW is a multi-year initiative led by the Montana University System to make two-year higher education more accessible, better coordinated, better understood and, as a result, better utilized statewide. We will be following Montana's journey expanding opportunities for higher learning to communities in every corner of the state.