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The recent article entitled “Bitterroot Valley Community College petition in circulation” by Michelle McConnaha in the Ravalli Republic (10/13/19) was a timely and informative report of the effort currently underway to establish Bitterroot Valley Community College (BVCC) as an independent, two-year, degree-granting community college in Ravalli County. But, despite its factual newsworthiness, the article did not fully communicate the educational urgency, pressing developmental need and extensive benefits that will flow from a true and proper community college serving the local needs of Ravalli County.

To begin, let’s face the fact that our so-called ‘Bitterroot College’ here in Hamilton is a misnomer. It is not a “college” in any real sense of the term. It is, in fact, an affiliated outreach extension unit existing at the sole and arbitrary discretion of the University of Montana (UM). Despite the yeomanly educational efforts of dedicated educators and staff, ‘Bitterroot College’ is hamstrung in its efforts. The residents of Ravalli County deserve something better.

According to the Bitterroot Valley Community College initiative website (bvcommunitycollege.org), sponsored by the Ravalli County Workforce Alliance (RCWA), our so-called ‘Bitterroot College’ here in Hamilton has zero academic authority; cannot create new academic programs or hire new instructors without UM approval; is not a recognized campus of the University of Montana; must enroll its students through Missoula College; is not allowed to recruit new students; and its paltry budget is basically a UM trickle-down discretionary handout. Bottom line: this educational unit misleadingly called ‘Bitterroot College’ is precariously unsustainable, has an uncertain future, and is insufficient to meet the expanding workforce needs of Ravalli County.

I have had the privilege and pleasure of teaching at numerous colleges and universities during my 22+ years as a professor and am now happily in my second year of teaching at ‘Bitterroot College’. Before moving to Hamilton, I worked for nine years at UM teaching Business Ethics classes for the College of Business. One thing I have learned is that strategic workforce training education is the backbone of a vibrant and thriving community. Sure, UM has a lot on its plate struggling out of the pit it dug itself into a while ago. And I certainly support UM making a comeback. But that is no reason to treat the residents of Ravalli County like second-class citizens when it comes to quality of education and workforce training superiority. Economic growth and development is built on educational excellence.

If you want to get an idea of what the visionary folks at RCWA, local business leaders and the enlightened educators at ‘Bitterroot College’ have in mind for Ravalli County, take a quick look at what is happening at Flathead Valley Community College (www.fvcc.edu). President Jane Karas reports on her page that “FVCC currently offers over 50 career and technical programs that prepare students to enter rewarding careers immediately following graduation.” And, Karas adds, “most of our graduates who enter the workforce stay in Montana, and the majority stay in the Flathead Valley.” Local education meeting the needs of local workforce training is attractive to new business. And, with earned credits that transfer directly into the UM system, Bitterroot Valley Community College would be a low-cost jump-start to a four-year degree. The Bitterroot Valley is growing. Educational opportunities for young, mature and working residents of Ravalli County must grow with it.

We need your help. As Michelle McConnaha reported — quoting Candy Lubansky, president of the Bitterroot College Advisory Council and Tory Clark, Director of Bitterroot College — Ravalli County voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 to establish a community college in Ravalli County. Unfortunately, as the result of concerted efforts at the legislative level hostile toward the establishment of an independent community college in the Bitterroot Valley, the will of the citizens of Ravalli County was thwarted. As a community of concerned, forward-looking citizens, we must not let that happen again. Stand with us or stand aside!

Please sign the petition to get the proposition for the establishment of the Bitterroot Valley Community College on the May 2020 ballot and let the voters decide — again. Stop into the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority (RECDA) at 274 Old Corvallis Road, Hamilton to sign the petition. Or, look for me and some of my concerned BC students outside the Hamilton Post Office on Saturday mornings.

— Robert D. Walsh, Ph.D., Hamilton