If you’re a student at Montana State University’s Gallatin College right now, chances are you’ve had to drive to two or more of the college’s nine locations to get to your classes.
“Without a central location, right now Gallatin College students are effectively treated as second-class citizens because they don’t have access to the vast resources that on-campus students have,” said Tracy Ellig, MSU’s vice president of communications.
The Montana Legislature is considering spending money to change that.
A major infrastructure package now includes funding to build a new building for Gallatin College, giving its students a central location to attend courses.
House Bill 5, the state’s long-range planning package, would provide $23.5 million in capital development funds and $22.5 million in authority only funding for the project. “Authority only” means money that does not require a state appropriation, such as grants, donations, auxiliary funds, proprietary funds, non-state funds and university funds.
The original version of the bill didn’t include money for Gallatin College. But a swap was made. The funding originally earmarked for the renovation of MSU’s Lewis Hall was moved to the construction of Gallatin College in an amendment approved last week by a budget subcommittee. The bill has not yet advanced to the House floor.
This comes as enrollment at the college is on the rise. Enrollment has risen from 228 students in 2012 to 750 in 2022.
Ellig said that the Montana University System, through the Office of Higher Education and the Montana Board of Regents, presents a list of priority buildings to the governor for capital improvements.
Then Gov. Greg Gianforte makes the decision about what he wants in his budget.
Ellig said the governor was prioritizing renovation and repair this session. However, Ellig said, groups such as the Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce and the Gallatin County Commission were surprised at the exclusion of Gallatin College.
“I think they were surprised that it wasn’t in the budget because for them it was something they were waiting for for quite some time, and it was a thing that they felt there was an urgent need for,” Ellig said.
As a result, it was put into HB 5.
It has received mill levy funds once, which are still in effect, and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ellig said local support has always been high.
The demand for the college’s programs has grown fast, as well. It has waiting lists in numerous programs as well as waiting lists for new programs they don’t have the space for. One of the college’s benefits is its flexibility to open and close programs based on industry need, Ellig said.
Gallatin College is the only two-year institution in Montana that does not have its own campus, according to Ellig. Its buildings are all either borrowed or leased. That means students miss out on campus life and the services the university offers, such as the dining halls, health and wellness services, the library, the financial aid office, the registrar’s office and more.
If MSU does get the money from the bill, planning and design of the building should take about a year before it goes out for bid. Ellig said the building would likely go on South 7th Avenue near the engineering complex. That way, collaboration could occur between those two-year and four-year programs.
Ellig said some of the most important things about higher education are the connections you make with people who will become peers, colleagues and friends. A unified campus would provide those opportunities.
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