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Community College Backers Criticize University of Montana Plan for Higher Ed Center


University of Montana President George Dennison has outlined a preliminary plan to create a higher education center in Hamilton, drawing fire from backers of a proposed community college in the same area.

Dennison told the Regents’ Academic and Student Affairs Committee Wednesday that the center would offer everything from college credit for high school honors courses up through bachelor’s degrees.

A higher education center would allow distance learning classes, job training and classes taught at the center, depending on what the community wants.

Dennison said he does not believe it would conflict with the proposed Bitterroot Valley Community College.

Ravalli County voters earlier this month approved the creation of a community college district.

Victoria Clark of the Bitterroot Valley Community College-Exploratory Committee, views the UM proposal as competition.

“To go forward with a higher education center is, frankly, a distraction,” Clark said. “We’ve been trying to get services since 2001, and all we got was a part-time outreach worker (who was withdrawn two and a half years ago). I think the timing of this is very suspect.”

She suggested that once Bitterroot Valley Community College is up and running, it would be appropriate for UM to set up programs allowing students to progress beyond community-college levels.

Dennison said UM will be “supportive of whatever the community decides to do.”

Dennison said efforts on both fronts, the community college and the satellite campus or higher education center, started in spring 2006.

Regents Chairwoman Lynn Hamilton, who headed the committee, later noted that there are already three “very successful” higher education centers in Great Falls and Helena, which have local college of technology campuses, and in Lewistown, which does not.

At the end of the hearing, Hamilton urged both sides to work together.

Associated Press

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