The value of the Montana University System is felt far beyond the cities in which its campuses and agencies reside.
More than 43,000 individuals are students within the Montana University System. They are joined by thousands more in our partner community colleges and tribal colleges. Collectively, they touch Montana businesses that rely on a skilled work force and advance our economy by meeting immediate needs, creating new companies and spending their earnings in the state’s communities.
A recent study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University contains important information for Montana. Projections show that 68 percent of the jobs available in Montana between now and 2018 will require postsecondary education.
The estimated lifetime earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree is essentially double that of a high school graduate. Associate degrees provide higher-paying job opportunities. Graduate degrees provide an even greater boost in lifetime earnings. We need people with the entire range of educational backgrounds in Montana. The recession has accelerated the shift to jobs that require postsecondary education. We promote partnership with our colleagues in K-12 schools in the creation of educational pathways that fulfill personal dreams and a robust 21st century economy for Montana.
Both the University of Montana and Montana State University recently completed economic impact statements that report our institutions create personal income of approximately $2 billion in the state. We account for at least 20,000 Montana jobs over and above state-funded faculty and staff. For every state dollar invested in higher education, almost $3 are given back to Montana in the form of increased economic activity. That is a sound investment.
Our campuses are dedicated to graduating students in much higher percentages while maintaining academic standards of excellence. Improvements in advising, Internet learning options and financial aid are increasing the number of students who graduate. An amazing 74 percent of UM and MSU graduates from all our campuses are employed in Montana within one year of graduation. By working together, we provide a wide range of academic programs to suit individual student needs, helping maintain our leadership as a state and a nation.
Our research and creative endeavors enrich Montana’s academic and economic potential. Faculty members and students make discoveries that contribute to our knowledge and that create new job opportunities through technology transfer. Research currently brings nearly $200 million to the state from external sources, most of which is spent right here in Montana. And research has the potential to find solutions to tough challenges. For example, researchers at the University of Montana and Montana State University together made discoveries that helped the world better understand Colony Collapse disorder, a mysterious disease affecting bee colonies that poses a profound threat to the world’s agricultural production.
Through our agencies, we share research-generated knowledge throughout the state by making it accessible and useful to individual families and communities, empowering them to enhance their quality of life and strengthen agriculture, forestry, mining and other businesses. Working with our campuses, for example, the Agricultural Experiment Station and our Bureau of Mining and Geology are looking for solutions to combat wheat stem sawfly and find new sources of energy for Montana and the nation.
Outreach to communities through our extension offices, education and health care programs, and cultural and athletic events keeps us in touch with residents from border to border. They add service, zest and quality to civic life all across our great state.
Partnership is the key to a successful higher education system. UM- and MSU-affiliated campuses and agencies are working together in many new directions. We are grateful for the tremendous support of our communities, friends, donors and policymakers. The future of Montana lies in the advancement of our students and communities. We accept that responsibility in our colleges and universities as a shared and sacred trust.
(Royce Engstrom is president of the University of Montana. Waded Cruzado is president of Montana State University.)