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2013 January 7 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Mont. CC Offering Free Tuition to Some Students

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Dawson Community College hopes to boost its sagging enrollment by offering free tuition to high school students taking college courses and students who left the school needing a few more credits to graduate.

Students would still have to pay fees and buy their books.

In September, members of the Montana Board of Regents said they were concerned about the declining enrollment numbers at both Dawson CC in Glendive and Miles Community College in Miles City. Dawson’s enrollment dropped 22 percent between fall 2011 and this fall, to about 259 students, The Billings Gazette reported, while Miles CC’s enrollment fell by 9 percent to 368 students.

Enrollment and both schools has topped 500 in the past decade. Five of the nine other public campuses in Montana saw enrollment declines, but by lesser percentages.

The Bakken oil boom is partially to blame, said DCC President James Cargill. Students who graduate from high school may be lured to higher-paying jobs in the oil fields rather than going to college.

The increased oil production in North Dakota has also put pressure on housing, making it difficult to find an affordable place to live in Glendive, said Jackie Schultz, dean of instructional services.

The college also is struggling to find instructors for technical programs such as diesel and gas mechanics and welding technology because people with those skills can make more money in the oil fields.

Dawson is waiving tuition costs under its Early Start and Finish Line programs.

Under Early Start, high school students over the age of 16 can take up to 10 credits during the spring semester and eight in the summer without paying tuition. A similar program last summer, waiving both tuition and fees, drew five students.

A student taking 10 credits pays about $550 in tuition and $480 in fees.

Under the Finish Line program, former students who have been away from campus for at least three years can take as many as 10 credits tuition-free to finish a degree.

Cargill said he hopes that if a local high school student takes a class at the college, he or she will like the campus enough to complete a degree there.

Miles Community College has several programs that train students for jobs that are in demand in oil, coal and pipeline development in the area, including heavy equipment operation, building trades, computer technology and auto mechanics. The school also has started new programs to train students to be phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians and medical lab technicians to meet a growing demand in health care facilities.

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