College Courses for Montana Veterans

Breaking down barriers that keep veterans out of college is part of the goal behind some course options at Montana schools. Another part of the goal is providing training for new jobs for veterans, for free.

Flathead Valley Community College just started up “EnGIneering Flathead’s Future”  Associate Director of Resources and Grants for FVCC Matt Springer said the school aims to recruit veterans into engineering programs.

“Engineering opportunities are kind of broadly interpreted to include the trades as well as computer science and then our more traditional engineering track which would transfer folks to a four-year-college.” Springer said the college received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the program.

But, he says getting veterans to take advantage of the program is the hard part.

“We’ve tried to be creative, and work with a lot of partners that we’ve identified that can help us recruit vets, and it’s just a challenge for everyone I think to figure out ways to support vets as they come home, and kind of reintegrate them into our society in the best way possible,” Spring said.

The classes are integrated with both veterans and non-veterans, and the student count right now only has one or two self-identified veterans. Springer said right now when people are signing up for a class and talking with their advisor, and they happen to be a veteran the advisor can then direct them into these free courses if they’re interested. What the college would like to do is reach out more into the community and start fielding calls from veterans looking for different retraining programs, or interested in engineering.

Springer said a National Science Foundation initiative looked at some of the challenges facing veterans keeping them from returning to college, and found engineering to be a path through those challenges, especially for those with specific technical training. “So, really what we did was we looked at two main things; one the best practices in terms of engineering education in general and then secondly the best practices in terms of veteran’s education,” Springer said. “We took kind of a lot of those factors and just combined them in one program, so it’s a program that vets can enter, they receive some additional career counseling, some extra orientation to college, and then we really try to engage them in the hands-on-practical engineering type projects.”

FVCC’s engineering teachers tweaked their existing classes to create course work that focuses on problem solving, practical engineering, and entrepreneurship. Springer says they also teamed up with two local businesses; Sonju Industrials and Jackola Engineering to offer paid internships to veterans in the program.

The college is also offering free, non-credit courses through Montana Veterans Upward Bound. This is a Department of Education funded program run out of Billings with campuses offering courses in computers, college math and algebra, and college writing.

FVCC’s Jodi Smith says the courses are basically college prep courses and aim to help open the door for veterans to access higher education. “Partly, possibly brush up on some writing, computer, math skills that people possibly haven’t revisited in quite a while,” Smith said, “really gain a comfort level with being on a college campus, partly really, you know, getting familiar with the material that’s going to make them successful with the credit curriculum that we have once they start pursuing some degrees.” Smith said the classes are also available to veterans with a Bachelor’s Degree, looking to get back into school.

A December report out of the State Department of Labor’s Bureau of Research and Analysis shows Montana’s veterans to be above average in having some college or associates degree. But, it shows veterans to be below the state average in holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher; 24-percent against a state level of 30-percent.

“I think sometimes just working this kind of a professional development into their lives and not knowing really where to begin, and taking their next steps, they’ve been in a, probably a very likely a strong successful career in the military, and so now it’s an opportunity to shift gears and that can be intimidating,” Smith said.

These classes are veterans only, and the Kalispell campus has been offering them since 2005. Kalispell offers the courses in both spring and fall semesters, and typically averages about 20-students per semester, the largest out of the 6 participating campuses. Other participating sites are in Butte, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, and Missoula.

FVCC is hosting an open house Wednesday the 25th from 5 to 6 in the evening for people to find out more about the classes which in the next couple weeks. Smith says there’s still room for people to register.



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