by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas, Hamilton
It is clear from Gary Engebretson’s letter to the Star dated 3/23/22 and Helen Sabin’s response to my letter juxtaposing community college and university-type college in the same paper that misunderstandings prevail at least in some quarters. So let’s try again.
1) Helen states that if you don’t actively vote NO on the levy of 9.75 mills for the proposed Bitterroot Valley Community College (BVCC) on the ballot due May 3, 2022, you will be counted as a YES. False. If you do not vote YES or NO on that ballot, you will be counted as not having voted.
2) Gary is concerned about housing and feeding all the college students if the levy passes. Community colleges cater to people of all ages who live in the community and therefore rarely entail a campus of many buildings, much less dorms and dining halls. The University of Montana (UM, in Missoula) and Montana State University (MSU, in Bozeman) are not what we’re talking about here – with thousands of 18-22-year-olds living in close proximity and sometimes putting their social lives and sports ahead of their learning.
We are talking about Bitterrooters aged maybe 16-18 and up who want to learn specific things for a year or two at an affordable price and then get on with their adult lives, whether that means using their training in local jobs or going on to a 4-year college for more somewhere else. Housing and food are not the community college’s concern.
3) Helen is concerned that Bitterroot College (BC) as it stands is not doing well financially and does not offer much of what Bitterrooters are interested in. Both of those things are true – because BC is currently under the auspices of UM, which is a traditional 4-year college and not much interested in concrete job training (welding, dental hygienist, truck driver) or adult education. UM isn’t offering what people want through BC, and so enrollment is low and UM doesn’t get the kind of money it would like and doesn’t want to continue it.
The whole point of a Bitterroot Valley Community College is that we in the Bitterroot determine what is offered and we also keep the money!
4) Gary is on a partially fixed income and is concerned about yet more of his money going to other people’s schooling. Of course. Now, quite apart from what we all pay toward our local public schools, if his property is worth, say, $150,000, then the cost of BVCC to him would be about $1.70 per month, which won’t even get you a cup of coffee … anywhere.
However, Gary and Helen and all of us will be able to tell our community college what kind of courses and programs we want for the community, might even be able to teach something (for pay), and might even discover there are some courses we’d like to take. Such courses would not only be reasonably priced, the money would stay here in the Valley.
My husband and I both spent long years studying and then teaching in 4-year colleges and universities, and we know first-hand that SO MANY young people who end up there, racking up horrendous debts, would be much happier at and much better served by a good community college, at least for starters.
I believe that the Bitterroot Valley Community College would prove to be a great and enduring opportunity and investment for the whole community and beyond. Please vote YES for the levy.