By Tim Leeds 

Kegel talks of changes at, future of Northern


Last updated 5/15/2019 at 11:43am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel points while talking to Golden Graduates in Havre for Northern's graduation.

Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel recently told a gathering of former graduates about some changes at the university, some plans for more changes - and some things that haven't changed.

"Our students are a little unique," he said. " ... Companies fly in in jets to hire them."

Kegel was addressing the largest group of Golden Graduates to attend a graduation ceremony since 1991, with 15 graduates from 1959 to 1969 coming to be honored at, as well as hear about and tour, the university.

Kegel pointed out some differences since the Golden Grads attended what was then Northern Montana College, including the new Biodiesel Technology Center that opened one year earlier.

"We have made a lot changes," Kegel said, crediting the Alumni Foundation's work and fundraising for many of those changes.

"They are making a lot of things happen," he said.

And, he said, the foundation is still working on more, including a new football stadium he said he hopes to break ground on soon.

Kegel said the foundation had raised $1.7 million by Christmas and has other major donations in the work.

His hope is to eventually build a full complex, including a building with classrooms, workout centers and a space that could host tournaments for sports, which would have a total cost of $12 million to $15 million.

But the first phase would include a field, bleachers and maybe lights, he said, with an estimated cost of about $2.3 million.

Kegel said that would be part of what is key to attracting and retaining students - building student life on campus. Not all students are football players, but having a strong team and a stadium would help attract students.

"You've got to get them engaged," he said. " ... It makes a huge difference."

He said another piece was approved by this year's Legislature, which gave Northern authority to raise $6 million to upgrade Donaldson Hall, a former girls dormitory and the first completely new building erected on the campus.

Several Golden Grads commented on Donaldson, and asked why it had gone into disuse.

Kegel said Northern built a new girls dormitory - Mackenzie Hall - and put Donaldson to new uses, which was cheaper than the upgrades to the building to meet required codes and accessibility would have been at the time.

Some offices were moved into the building, and the upper floors retired, and, eventually, when problems were discovered such as with the heating system, it was shut down.

Local businesses have helped upgrade the problems that were found, and some of the building - the ballroom on its west end - have been reopened.

Kegel said the building is structurally sound - "It will stand for another 100 years" - and the plans are to upgrade and renovate it to turn it into a multicultural center.

He said Northern's would be different than the Native American cultural center being built at Montana State University in Bozeman - while Native American culture would be part of it, Northern's plans are for a multi-cultural center, including looking at cowboy culture and railroad culture.

He said the university is talking to some potential donors who would like to see a center with a multi-cultural focus.

"It's got some legs to it," he said.

He said Northern also is looking into some other ways to increase student activity, including club hockey, women's softball and women's wrestling.

The key is getting more students on campus, Kegel said.

He said, for example, Northern still has programs for elementary education and vocational education programs to train teachers, but enrollment is low - it graduated one vocational education teacher this year.

"It's in crisis mode," he said. "We have the programs but we don't have the students in the programs."

An issue in teacher education is making the field, the career, attractive, Kegel said. Part of that is the state government addressing teachers' salaries, and recruiting people into that field.

"Maybe they just need to wake up a little bit on that before it's too late," he said.

The same lack of students essentially is true for all of Northern's programs - businesses have more demand for graduates than Northern has graduates.

Part of the problem is that the number of students graduating in north-central Montana has dramatically dropped. Kegel said that when he came to Northern, Havre High School had about 1,250 students. Now it has less than 600. That kind of drop is true to schools throughout the region.

Kegel said Northern is adjusting and increasing recruiting.

"We've got to cast that net farther," he said.

And the lack of students is making Northern's industry partners unhappy, he said,

"They're getting graduates, they're just not getting enough, and they want more," he said.

He said Northern had a job fair and 60 industries partners showed up - the Armory gymnasium was packed, he said

"Everybody's fighting for our students," Kegel said.

He said the diesel program is well-known for its 100 percent placement of students, but it is not alone.

He pointed to the 31 nursing graduates from Northern's new College of Health Sciences - all of whom had jobs lined up.

"We were never just a diesel school," Kegel said.

He said Northern has the best placement and the best graduate income in the state - Northern students average a starting annual income $10,000 higher than the other Montana universities.

Some Golden Grads said Northern needs to do more to promote the small class sizes, individual attention and quality of the programs.

Kegel said Northern is trying to do that, but can only do so much.

"I can't tell kids where to go to school," he said.

At the same time, he said, Northern has to let potential students know it has the capacity and has great programs.

"We have the fastest horse in town," Kegel said.


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