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Trustees Sworn In For Montana's Newest Community College

A sign outside of Bitterroot College-UM in Hamilton, MT.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
A sign outside of the Bitterroot Valley Community College in Hamilton, MT.

Trustees of the new Bitterroot Valley Community College district took their oath of office this week. They’re now preparing to build the state’s first independent community college in more than 50 years. 

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen led the seven trustees in taking their oath of office in the first official action of the new college board. 

Clayton Christian, commissioner of state higher education, welcomed the trustees. 

“[I] appreciate all of your efforts to make this dream come true after nearly 10 years in the Bitterroot Valley. It’ll be a great addition to the Montana University System in a much different capacity than you held before.”

Bitterroot College is a branch of the University of Montana but the board of trustees is going to lead a change. Last year, Ravalli County voters backed an effort to organize the school as an independent two-year community college, similar to Dawson, Miles and Flathead Valley community colleges. 

State lawmakers gave bipartisan approval for the independent Bitterroot College during the 2021 legislative session. But the state’s approval means locals will need to come up with a way to help pay for it. 

Linda Doughty is the chair of the college trustee board. 

“Because there’s not been a college developed in 53 years, there’s not a playbook to do this, and of course there’s not anything really written in stone on how to get started or what it will take to get started” she says.

At the same time Ravalli County voters approved creating a new district for college, they rejected a mill levy to pay for the school. 

Doughty says the board will look into creating a foundation and applying for grants, and another levy will be put to voters next year. Part of the board’s early efforts will be getting community buy-in.

A budget for the school isn’t set. 

According to the college board, BVCC will provide workforce training, Associate of Applied Science degrees, and certificates in applied sciences and technical studies, along with other short-term workforce development courses. 

According to the community college’s website, a strategic plan outlining the vision of the school is coming this fall. 

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.
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