The Montana University System partners with Education Design Lab to develop and scale skills-forward, short-term credentials in high-demand fields.
SEPT. 20, 2023 – HELENA, MT – Education Design Lab (the Lab), the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE), and Montana’s public two-year colleges, today announced the launch of a new initiative to expand the college-to-career pipeline in Montana. Montana’s “Year to Career” Initiative will bring colleges, employers, learners, and local stakeholders together to collaboratively design skills-focused educational pathways to expand opportunities for Montanans and meet the state’s growing workforce needs.
“Student success, and Montana’s future, depends on innovation and fresh, new thinking to transform the way education is delivered,” Governor Greg Gianforte said. “With this new micro-credential initiative, Montana is paving the way toward greater educational and career opportunities, and a brighter future, for Montanans.”
Starting this month, 12 Montana colleges will undergo a two-year transformation to enhance their role as sustainable engines of economic growth and regional talent suppliers. With the support of the Lab, participating institutions will establish 12-20 “micro-pathways” – stackable credentials that can be flexibly achieved within less than a year – that will put learners both on the path to an associate degree or to immediate employment in high-demand fields, including information technology, allied health, construction, advanced manufacturing, and agriculture technology.
“As a regional leader in higher education, Montana is well-positioned to provide innovative options for students to achieve their goals,” said Clayton Christian, Montana Commissioner of Higher Education. “These fast-track credentials will complement the traditional degree programs at our colleges and will help students stand out in a competitive job climate while ensuring academic quality and value for employers throughout Montana.”
Despite unemployment hitting record lows in Montana, rural communities continue to struggle economically, and many low-income families lack the time and resources to invest in full-time education and training. Short-term credential pathways are high-quality, flexible, cost-effective options for educational attainment that lead both to immediate employment opportunities and continued degree progress.
“Over the past several years, the Lab has worked with colleges across the country to pioneer micro-pathways as a new way to meet the needs of the New Majority Learner, while also addressing critical workforce demands in regions from coast to coast,” said Bill Hughes, President and CEO, Education Design Lab. “Being able to work not just with the colleges, but also alongside innovative state leaders in Montana marks a major milestone in our ability to create greater economic opportunity for learners in an increasingly skills-based ecosystem. We look forward to seeing how this work can scale and inspire other states to rethink how they are creating pathways from college to career.”
This initiative is unique in that critical partners from across the state came together around the goal of designing, building, and implementing an education-to-workforce architecture that will have long term impacts and sustainability.
“As employers in a tight labor market, we need to change our thinking about finding ‘an’ employee to one of building a pipeline of future employees in Montana,” said Brian Obert, Executive Director of the Montana Business Assistance Connection, a key partner in the initiative.
Education Design Lab will provide the design framework for the Montana OCHE, the Montana University System’s (MUS) Two Year Council, and other partners identified below to design, implement, support, and leverage micro-pathways leading to liveable wage jobs. Each of the pathways will be established around high-growth industries, based on data and feedback from industry partners across the state. Further, industry leaders will be a part of the effort right from the start. The partners’ existing initiatives and efforts will align to create visible pathways along with resources and support for individuals across the state. Organizations involved in this initiative include:
- Accelerate Montana, Rapid Retraining Program
- Bitterroot College – UM
- City College – MSUB
- Dawson Community College
- Flathead Valley Community College
- Gallatin College – MSU
- Great Falls College – MSU
- Helena College – UM
- Highlands College – Montana Tech
- Miles Community College
- Missoula College – UM
- Montana Economic Development Administration (MEDA)
- Montana Department of Labor and Industry
- Montana Department of Commerce
- The Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE)
- Montana State University – Northern, College of Technical Sciences
- Montana University System Two-Year Leadership Council
- University of Montana – Western
Other key stakeholders invited to partner with this effort include tribal colleges, local economic development agencies, certified regional development centers, tribal economic development organizations, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Hospital Association, the Montana High-Tech Business Alliance, and employers throughout the state.
The Montana Micro-Pathway Opportunity will also be unique in offering the first Design Fellows program. The program will provide postsecondary institution and system leaders, government (policy) advisors, economic development, or business leaders an opportunity to observe and learn from a state community college system-wide effort as they design and implement micro-pathways. With the support of the Lab’s designers and college partners, Fellows will design a micro-pathway implementation blueprint for their state.
Montana’s “Year to Career” Initiative builds upon the success of the “Montana Future at Work” initiative, funded by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Accelerate Montana’s rapid retraining workforce development campaign, and three current Lab programs including BRIDGES Rural, Data Collaborative, and the Community College Growth Engine (CCGE). Since the launch of CCGE, the Lab has worked with 53 community colleges and systems throughout the nation to design and pilot more than 100 employer-validated micro-pathways in six sectors and over 30 occupations that connect over 8,000 new majority learners to employment in careers at or above median wage.
Initial funding for this effort has been generously provided by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Walmart, the Charles Koch Foundation, and the Carnegie Foundation.
About Education Design Lab
The Education Design Lab (the Lab) is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting learners to economic mobility. Learn more: www.eddesignlab.org.
About the Montana University System
The Montana University System (“MUS”) is the state’s system of public colleges and universities, which together serve more than 40,000 students statewide. Under the direction of the Montana Board of Regents, the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (“OCHE”) provides strategic direction and coordinates the overall structure, function, and budget of Montana’s dynamic collection of post-secondary institutions. This includes leading public research and doctoral-level institutions and comprehensive 4-year and 2-year colleges and universities.