By Kelly McCandless
McMullen Hall – MSU Billings Prescott Hall – Rocky Mountain College
Successful higher education institutions are an indicator of a thriving community, and vice versa. Students seek universities and colleges that not only offer the degree program and educational experience they’re interested in, but also those that are embedded in dynamic, supportive and exciting communities. Communities that support their colleges and universities in turn see an ongoing pipeline of trained talent eager to begin their career.
And this trained talent in in extremely high demand, in Billings and across the country. Workforce concerns continue to top the list of things keeping employers up at night, and as a result, the economy continues to face limited growth. Businesses can’t hire to fill open positions, let alone fill new positions to meet demand.
Additionally, employees must adapt to the ever changing work environment and job demands. Employability skills are a must for businesses hiring, and even in a tight labor market, those looking for work must possess critical thinking, customer service, punctuality, and other key skills required across industries.
With issues likes these facing both employees and employers, the education system, at all levels, is being forced to adjust the way it moves students through its system. Educational experiences, from birth to adult, must be adapted, relevant, and relatable in order for someone to become or remain a desirable hire. The complexity, size and functionality of an education system makes drastic changes like these incredibly difficult to achieve, but nonetheless necessary.
As the workforce demands a new array of skills, the value proposition of higher education is changing. Attending a two or four year institution for a degree is no longer the expectation it was just a few years ago. Students are weighing the cost and potential debt that a degree will saddle them with alongside the value of the degree to their future. This means higher ed is adapting to both serve the value proposition of the student and to provide graduates who are desirable and in demand.
Adjusting Outcomes In Billings
These workforce issues are certainly no surprise to Chancellor Dan Edelman from Montana State University Billings and Dr. Bob Wilmouth, President of Rocky Mountain College. Discussions around these issues are ongoing in both of their facilities. “Students demand value and outcomes,” explains Wilmouth. “We’ve built our strategic plan around those items.” He explains that Rocky, like most colleges and universities, competes to offer graduates relevant for employers. “We educate our students, not just train, ensuring the result is a well-rounded student with creative expression, ethical decision-making, informed citizenship, and professional excellence.”
Chancellor Edelman notes that, “Higher education needs to be more sensitive to workforce demands.” How does MSU Billings achieve that? By working diligently with community partners to identify the skills they require in employees. Edelman explains, “Opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning and internships creates stronger connections between higher education institutions and the workforce. In this way, MSUB keeps current with work trends, desires, and expectations of employers, while providing employers with skilled employees ready to hit the ground running.”
Dr. Bob Wilmouth – President of Rocky Mountain College Chancellor Edelman of Montana State University Billings
While the state rivalry has its place, both of the Billings campuses voice the importance of supporting the Battlin’ Bears and the Yellowjackets. But supporting our local schools doesn’t mean you have to shed your blue and gold or your maroon and white. “Support Rocky and MSUB by providing meaningful internships and hiring our graduates. Attend our events and athletic competitions. An engaged community elevates the education experience for our students,” Wilmouth explains.
They both also note the importance of supporting the projects and programs that will transform these campuses into the future. “Get involved and pay attention to what is happening in the higher education landscape. Work with us to create career pathways and offer quality internship opportunities to our students so they can get hands-on, practical experience,” says Edelman.
Both leaders remark on the importance of support and involvement. Business advocates helps to set students up for success. And, financial support is crucial. Donations to both colleges provide integral funding that can allow advanced offerings for student programs, more affordable education through scholarships, and more. Support our university and encourage fellow businesses to support us and get involved.
Innovation In Motion
An example of that key funding at work? The new Science Buildings on (or soon to be on) both campuses. The new Yellowstone Science & Allied Health Building coming to the MSUB campus is for Billings and eastern Montana, according to Edelman. “We will be able to better serve the workforce demands and offer our students the education and training needed to fill vacant jobs and the potential to earn a good living. This building will have state-of-the-art labs and technology, which will attract more students MSUB, help grow our enrollment, and the workforce in Billings and beyond.”
Wilmouth echoes the sentiment. “Our Science Building helps provide first class laboratory experiences for our students, giving them the skills necessary to solve problems and make discoveries in many of the most important industries in our community, like healthcare, oil and gas, and technology. They also help us attract top students, and since we know 50% of our students will stay and work in Billings, this science building helps lead to an elite local workforce.”
Has it helped with enrollment? Wilmouth explains that yes, but more than anything it adds tremendous value and a higher quality experience and practical knowledge application since every Rocky student experiences the building.
Not only are our colleges and universities expected to remain cutting edge, they have real concerns as it pertains to safety. “Since I’ve been Chancellor, we have conducted multiagency trainings to ensure we are providing a safer campus and community environment,” notes Edelman. He explains that things like active shooter drills and a measles outbreak exercise both required partnerships with the Billings community and lead to a better, more prepared university.
Students First, Always
Both leaders have an important common theme: their students. MSUB prides itself on being a student-first university with decisions made centered around the success of their students. Rocky provides high quality, elite education at the lowest possible cost. “We both want to see Billings become a college town,” says Wilmouth.
And they’re right. The saying “a rising tide floats all boats” could not be more relevant. The more the Billings community rallies behind MSUB and Rocky, the better the experiences their students will have and the more both institutions will grow. Growth will continue to heighten their already impressive profiles and attract even more talented, bright minds. And, business follows. Active students help yield active communities. So, support students with quality internship offerings. Seek out graduates for your entry level positions. And, next time you have a chance, attend a game and cheer on the Yellowjackets and the Bears.
Donating to both MSUB and Rocky is easy. Simply contact them to discuss your gift today: