(MTN News-BILLINGS) It will now be easier and less expensive for high school students to get their foot in the door of higher education.

At a media event at the Billings Career Center, Gov. Steve Bullock and educators from the Billings area announced a new program for high school students enrolled in dual credit courses.

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, the one-year pilot program, High School Matters, will make tuition free for students taking classes affiliated with Montana State University Billings.

The program aims to increase participation in dual credit courses by taking away financial restraints and increasing public awareness.

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Bullock said the program will help the students who have their college careers planned out and those students who thought college was not in their future.

“This is about that student that may have never been told in all of our high schools, never been told while sitting in those classes that they are college material,” Bullock said. “If they have the opportunity to take those college classes, whether it’s algebra or welding, while in the relative safety and confines of a high school environment, they are that much more likely to start going down the pipeline toward college.”

Bullock also spoke about the growth of of dual credit programs and set a goal to expand enrollment by 1,000 students per year.

That increasing number of students creates a challenge for SD2 faculty, as only a small number of instructors are certified to teach dual credit courses.

MSUB Chancellor Mark Nook said the college is developing graduate level courses for teachers who want to obtain certification in their area of discipline.

Nook said the certification requires 9 credits, which he hopes can be obtained in a single summer session.

“The goal is to be able to put these things on the book in a way that fits the schedule of high school teachers,” Nook said.

Nook also outlined the possibility of SD2 teachers being able to take the graduate classes at no cost if they lead 3 or more dual credit courses over the next few years after obtaining their certification.

Tuesday’s speakers said that affordability for both students and faculty is at the heart of the program.

“In the last three years we’ve actually nearly doubled the amount of students in Montana taking dual enrollment courses, saving Montana families nearly three million dollars annually,” Bullock said.

“It provides pathways to higher education, which we sorely need,” School District 2 Superintendent Terry Bouck said. “We need to do it, and thanks to this program, we need to do it at a rate that is zero.”

For more information regarding dual enrollment and the High School Matters program, you can visit MSUB’s dedicated website.


Reporter: Travis Schlepp