Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - At the ‘State of Missoula’ City Club presentation in April, University of Montana President Seth Bodnar opened his presentation with a startling statistic that ‘the proportion of high school graduates who are enrolling in college directly out of high school has dropped seven full percentage points since just 2016.’

With that in mind, KGVO News received an update on that situation on Thursday with UM’s Director of Strategic Communications Dave Kuntz.

“We've seen a shift over the past about seven or eight years, and that's been a pretty significant drop in the college-going rates across the country,” said Kuntz. “One of the reasons that concerns leaders like President Bodnar, who came up through the military and through corporate America is that at the same time, we're seeing fewer and fewer American students seeking higher education. However, we're seeing other nations across the world, in China and elsewhere really increase the volume of higher education opportunities available to their young people.”

Kuntz said President Bodnar has recently published an op-ed in the Washington Post about the nationwide trend.

“Ultimately, as we talk about the competitiveness of America, here in the long term, it's certainly something that President Bodnar is pushing to the public dialogue in different forums,” he said. “He's published an op-ed in The Washington Post raising this question, and as we continue to work our way out of the pandemic and start re-approaching young people about these opportunities, it's really time to make a shift to make sure that we are tearing down every barrier to education possible.”

Kuntz said the University of Montana is being nimble in its approach to meeting students where they really are.

“At UM that includes bringing more innovative ways to learn, whether that be through remote or hybrid options, so you don't have to be in Missoula, Montana to take our classes, or it's tailoring skills programs to be instead of the four-year traditional degree, but more to your offerings or even offerings that are as short as 15 or 12 weeks or even some that are five days in the case of some of our offerings through Missoula College,” he said. “So we're really entering into a phase where we have to be more innovative as a higher education system and the University of Montana is really leading that conversation right now.”

In addition to the traditional 18 to 22-year-old student population, Kuntz said UM is reaching out to a much wider audience of potential students, with plans for all ages and lifestyles.

“We’re really emphasizing lifelong learners, such as people who are in their late 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s, even 60’s to come back and get re-skilled, as we've seen shifts in the economy,” he said. “We've launched initiatives like ‘Accelerate Montana’ here at the University of Montana, to specifically go out and partner with employers and offer short-term courses, where in some instances, the shortest is five days. We can take existing employers and work with their employees so they don't have to leave their job, but they can come and use the University of Montana infrastructure, whether that be in person or remote to get the additional skill sets needed so they can take the next step in their careers.”

Find out more about Accelerate Montana here.

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