HAMILTON - With ballots ready to drop for an important funding package later this week, supporters of a new Bitterroot Valley Community College are hitting the streets to explain what's at stake.
In more than a decade of operation as a University of Montana satellite, roughly 10,000-students have completed the various course offerings and programs at Bitterroot College.
Now, supporters of the new Bitterroot Valley Community College (BVCC) say it's time for the next academic step.
"What is there is actually just a program of the University of Montana, and if the levy passes what it will become is our own Bitterroot independent community college where we can have the flexibility to be able to put in programs and career training that's for the Bitterroot and not for Missoula," explained BVCC Trustee Chair Marci Smith.
Bitterroot College Director Victoria Clark says the BVCC effort will be "more robust".
"The college needs programming authority so it can bring on those current technical programs that we know our community wants and needs. And we need resources so we can make that happen."
Those resources will flow if voters approve an ongoing levy in this special election. The package provides BVCC the revenue base to go back to the Legislature for companion funding, accessing grants and starting full operations in Fall 2023.
"Distance education and online education is a great thing," Clark said. "But there are many things, especially more your career, technical sort of training, that you need to do in person. Having a brick and mortar presence in a community is is critical."
The campaign is all about explaining the expansion, which some voters grasp right away.
"I think this provides access to a potential change in lifestyle without having to leave the valley," Hamilton voter Brett Lewis said after hearing the pitch outside Albertson's last week. "And that, combined with the new Internet infrastructure coming in, like that opens up opportunities literally globally. If they have the training within easy access to them."
"Especially after COVID we see how critical it is to have the the essential worker, and that's what the Community College does," Clark notes.
The levy is the critical starting point. Smith says further questions like location, and partnerships for accreditation can't be addressed until funding is in place.
"But we can't make those decisions until and unless a levy passes, because right now people don't want to deal with BVCC until it's real. So there's a lot of things that we still need to put in place that cannot happen unless a levy does pass."
College officials say it's been a very healthy relationship with the University of Montana over the past several years, but it's time for the education program here to grow to the next phase.
"The Bitterroot College has always been an unfunded mandate for the University of Montana and and now this college, Bitterroot College, and the community are ready for the next step," Clark says.
Smith agrees that funding BVCC will also for a more responsive higher education offering in the Bitterroot.
"We'll be able to hopefully get programs in faster, and if there's a need, if the a new new business arrives in town, and we can feed people into it and do some career training and technical training. Then absolutely we'll be able to do that in a more nimble fashion."
Decisions will have to be made on which school BVCC will partner with for accreditation. But Clark whether it's the University of Montana, or another school, the partnership will be productive.
"With having this college be independent, you know it will be able to be robust. It will be able to have a relationship with the UM which is more partner than child and I think then we'll see more students here that will transfer to the UM because this college will be producing, its enrollment will go up and that will be stronger. And then you know, I think that it gives the UM some opportunities down here. which it has with the partner, but it doesn't have with the child." - Bitterroot College Director Victoria Clark
Ballots drop on Friday and must be returned by May 3. For more information on the levy package, visit the BVCC website.