Bob Hietala

Bob Hietala

Bob Hietala, who has led the rapid growth of two-year Gallatin College, will retire next June after creating job-training and educational opportunities for hundreds of local residents.

Under Dean Hietala’s leadership the past nine years, Gallatin College has expanded dramatically, faster than any other Montana campus, Montana State University reported. And its students have had lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates than other two-year state campuses.

Hietala, 59, said Monday that the college’s growth from about 100 students to more than 700 today is “the result of our great faculty and staff.”

What had been a small, awkward offshoot of the MSU Great Falls College of Technology, offering just four job-training certificates, has grown into a robust two-year college, headquartered at Hamilton Hall on the MSU Bozeman campus. It offers students 14 job-training options.

It awards two-year associate’s degrees as well as work-training certificates in such fields as computer-controlled CNC machining, photonics and laser optics, medical assisting and culinary arts.

It also trains students in aviation, bookkeeping, business management, design drafting, health information coding, surgical technician, interior design, welding, information technology networking and cyber security.

“This was an underserved population when we started,” Hietala said. “And we know this is only one-third of the way to the growth we know the community could support.”

A comprehensive report on Gallatin College’s future estimated that Gallatin, Park and other nearby counties could eventually attract 1,800 students, he said.

Gallatin College also uses innovative classes to help MSU four-year students who struggle with writing or math skills with the developmental or remedial classes they need to get up to speed doing college-level work.

To serve its growing number of students, Gallatin College once leased empty classrooms for several years at Bozeman High School. Now it leases commercial building space on Osterman Drive, off the Frontage Road east of town.

“That’s where we do most of our teaching,” Hietala said. That space is full now and the college is still looking for a permanent home, which would help it grow to 1,800 students, he said.

A decade ago, the Montana Board of Regents was dubious about creating another campus of the far-flung Montana University System, but then-new MSU President Waded Cruzado and then-Mayor Jeff Krauss went to bat for Gallatin College. The regents said yes to moving the college from Great Falls’ jurisdiction to Bozeman’s, but said local taxpayers would have to pitch in, as they do in other communities.

In 2013, Gallatin County voters passed a permanent 1.5 mill property tax to support the college, which won nearly 59 percent of the vote. The levy generates about $400,000 a year, Hietala said, and that has allowed the college to add new programs.

Gallatin College also offers dual-enrollment classes to 500 students at 15 local high schools who want to earn credit toward both high school diplomas and college degrees.

MSU reported that a national search is planned to find Hietala’s replacement.

MSU Provost Bob Mokwa praised Hietala for opening “doors of opportunity” for hundreds of students. Hietala was also credited with raising money for scholarships that helped more than 160 Gallatin College students.

Daryl Schliem, Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, told MSU that Hietala had been invaluable in providing training programs to meet the workforce needs of businesses.

In 2017, Hietala won the Prospera Business Network’s Economic Leadership Award.

Hietala said he’s retiring in part to spend more time with aging parents in California, and added that he’d “definitely” like to travel.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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