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With trustees in place, real work begins for new Bitterroot Valley Community College

Posted at 4:58 PM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-13 10:09:18-04

HAMILTON — The Bitterroot Valley is finally on its way to having its own community college after well over a dozen years of continually working the idea, and operating a satellite campus under the University of Montana.

A year after voters approved the idea, and following endorsement by the Legislature and Governor Gianforte, trustees for the new Bitterroot Valley Community College finally take their oaths of office in Hamilton from Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen.

It's a bold step for the Bitterroot and is also the first time in over 50 years a Montana community has formed a new community college.

“I think it will certainly take it to a sort of next generation, next level," observed Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian. "A lot of great groundwork has been done by all the people on the ground over the last decade. But a new chapter that, anxious to get kicked off today and excited for them.”

BVCC will replace "Bitterroot College", the small, but effective program that's given hundreds of people opportunities under supervision by UM.

“I think there's a ton of opportunities for young people here, and these are people that want to work and this way we have the means now to provide the skills necessary for people to succeed and stay home in the Valley," said State Senator Dave Bedey, R-MT. "It's a wonderful opportunity and so many people worked so hard on this.”

New Chairwoman Linda Doughty believes that hard work is key in getting to this point.

“And if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have had the ability or the foundation to do what the seven of us have been able to pick up and help push through.”

“We've got two community colleges in the east. We've got one in the northwest and Western Montana needed to have a Community College." noted Trustee Gary Carlson. "We needed to have our students, after they finished high schools here, stay in the state, go to Community College and enter the University of Montana or Montana State or elsewhere.”

Following the swearing-in, there was a lot of celebration but also an admission that the real work is now starting for these brand new college trustees. Chief among those tasks, designing, and funding a 2-year program.

“This is a Community College," emphasized Doughty. "This college really does belong to the community and we are going to be out there asking for their help.”

“We all need a boost," Carlson said. "Everybody is tired, people are venting and we need some good things to happen. And this community college is a good thing for Western Montana. And good for Missoula. Good for the state.”

Last year, voters had approved the formation of Bitterroot Valley Community College, but not the funding. So trustees will be tasked with building community support and then going back to the Legislature in two years for full funding.