Despite the fact that Montana is sparsely populated with many rural communities, its residents boast a relatively high level of degree attainment. According to a recent study from the Lumina Foundation titled A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, 39 percent of Montana adults possessed at least a two-year degree in 2013. And that number may be on an upward trend, as Lumina reports that only 37.7 percent of Montana adults had a college degree in 2008.
Breaking the numbers down further shows where Montana has some room for improvement, however. Out of adults ages 25-64 in the state, 27.76 percent held only a high school diploma in 2013, and 27.24 percent had some college, but no degree. With so many residents falling short in terms of higher education, it's easy to see how degree attainment in the state could inch up even further in the coming years.
Fortunately, there are a wide range of educational options for residents who want to head to college for the first time -- or simply finish what they started. The National Center for Education Statistics lists 33 institutions of higher learning in the state. In addition to traditional four-year colleges and universities, the state also boasts an array of technical and trade schools, community colleges, and career centers. Many of the institutions also offer online education in Montana, which can make pursuing a degree even easier for rural residents.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in Montana?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana's workforce was comprised of 443,330 members in 2014. Although compensation varies by occupation and experience, workers in the state earned a mean annual wage of $39,880 that year. However, earnings for college-educated workers were quite a bit higher on average, which shows that higher education -- whether in the form of postsecondary credentials or a two-year or four-year degree -- can pay off.
Here are some of the most prominent professions in Montana for college-educated workers, along with their average earnings in 2014:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||70,740||$33,330|
|Sales and Related Occupations||50,740||$34,430|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||50,060||$22,420|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||29,390||$74,680|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||28,050||$47,190|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||27,640||$37,490|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||27,510||$42,210|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||22,010||$44,180|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||20,080||$27,010|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||19,090||$61,150|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||15,190||$24,880|
With so much wide open space, one might assume that Montana has few urban areas. However, the state is actually home to some major cities and metro regions, including the Billings metropolitan area, the Great Falls metropolitan area, and the region surrounding Missoula, Montana.
Major industries in the state focus mostly on Montana's abundant resources and service industry. As of 2014, key economic drivers included health care, construction, and mining. However, ss more and more people learn of the state's natural beauty and resources, its tourism industry is also expected to grow.
Still, agriculture is what keeps Montana's economy ticking. According to the state's official website, agriculture is Montana's number one industry. With cattle outnumbering people in the state, it isn't surprising to learn that the agricultural industry brought in $4.2 billion in Montana in 2012. In addition to animals, Montana is also a leading producer of many natural and agricultural products, including certified organic wheat, dried peas, honey, lentils, and flax. In 2012, Montana was also home to over 28,000 independently-owned and state-run farms and ranches.
Because of the state's growing economy, government sources predict that employment could surge dramatically in certain industries through 2022. According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, the following industries could see moderate gains in employment in the state from 2012 to 2022:
Annual Employment Growth
Average Job Gain Per Year 2012 - 2022
Health Care and Social Assistance
Retail and Wholesale Trade
Accomodation and Food Services
Professional and Technical Services
Administrative and Waste Services
Transportation and Utilities
Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation
But jobs aren't the only thing that Montana has to offer. In addition to opportunities for employment, the state has plenty to offer in terms of educational opportunity as well. Included in the state's offerings are the Montana State University System, which includes several satellite campuses across the state. The University of Montana System, made up of seven separate campuses and schools, is also a prominent feature among the state's institutions of higher education. In addition to on-campus instruction, both systems offer their own take on distance learning in Montana. For example, the University of Montana's UMOnline offers an array of master's, bachelor's, associate, and certificate programs that can be completed in a flexible, online format.
Along with growing opportunities in industry and education, Montana boasts a wild and free spirit, as well as an excellent standard of living for residents. But it's also known for being rather quirky, and its citizens and animal populations often march to the beat of their own drum. Here are some interesting fun facts about Montana that you probably didn't know:
- Need some space? Population density in Montana is low -- so low that only six people reside in every square mile.
- If you love seeing animals in their natural habitat, Montana is for you. The state boasts the largest herd of migratory elk in the nation, plus over 8,000 moose, and a large grizzly bear population.
- With 43 state parks and 25 scenic byways, Montana offers more seclusion for nature lovers than anywhere in the lower 48 states.
- Montana is home to the beautiful Glacier National Park, the most visited and celebrated region of the state. Glacier National Park has 250 lakes within its boundaries.
- Eight different federally-recognized Native American tribes make their homes in Montana
What Makes Montana Ideal for Online Education?
Although Montana's population is spread out all across the state, educational opportunities are generally easy to find. However, many of the state's biggest schools are clustered in major metropolitan regions, along with the largest density of Montana's college-educated residents. As a recent report from the Lumina Foundation shows, the Montana counties with the highest percentage of adults who have earned at least an associate degree are as follows:
- Gallatin: 53.34 percent
- Missoula: 49.32 percent
- Lewis and Clark: 49.08 percent
- Daniels: 47.60 percent
- Jefferson: 44.31 percent
Having a glance at Montana's landscape and population density makes it easy to see why online education in Montana is ideal. With so many residents living in sparsely-populated rural areas, having a wide range of colleges and universities with online options expands educational access to nearly anyone, provided they have an internet connection.
"Students who may not be able to complete their education in a brick-and-mortar school can do so in an online environment," says Dr. Alyssa Gilston, online educator at several online colleges and universities that operate in the United States, including Kaplan University, Capella University, and Ashford University. "They can complete their work on their own time and they do not need to physically leave their home or office."
Further, As Gilston notes, there are other reasons why some students cannot make higher education at a brick-and-mortar institution work. In Montana, specifically, some may need to stay nearby to tend to the family farm or ranch.
"Finally, I have had many students with physical or mental health issues that have limited their ability to leave the home," says Gilston. "These students may also earn their degrees online."
In addition, online education in Montana, and everywhere for that matter, stands to benefit students who plan to work in a field that requires technology.
"Students are living in a world where many of them will work virtually. They need to perfect their technical skills and learning in the online setting helps them to attain this goal," Gilston adds.
Top 10 Degrees in Montana
While pursuing an on-campus or online degree in Montana is surely a good bet, certain degrees could pay off more than others in the long run. Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor, we compiled this list of the most promising college degrees in Montana through 2022:
A degree in biomedical engineering could lead to a number of fascinating careers, including biomedical engineer or medical equipment repairer. Students who earn a four-year degree in biomedical engineering usually go on to work as a biomedical engineer, while those who pursue two-year degrees in this field are more likely to qualify for entry-level work as a medical equipment repairer. Both jobs are expected to see huge growth in Montana in the coming years. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of biomedical engineers could increase by as much as 36 percent in Montana from 2012 to 2022, while job openings for medical equipment repairers are projected to surge 35.2 percent.
The use of technology is on the rise throughout all facets of Montana's infrastructure. Because of this expansion, a degree in computer science could really pay off. Careers associated with this degree, including software developer of systems software, software developer of applications, and computer systems analyst are all expected to see exceptional growth through 2022, with job openings expected to rise 33 percent, 31 percent, and 28 percent, respectively.
Physical Therapy Assistant
With demand for rehabilitative health care services growing across the country, a degree in physical therapy could be a very wise investment. By earning an associate degree in physical therapy assisting, you can begin a career providing hands-on care to patients in a physical therapist's office. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of physical therapy assistants could surge by as much as 33 percent in Montana from 2012 to 2022.
A degree in marketing could lead to an exciting career in a number of growing professions, including market research analyst and marketing specialist. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, demand for these professionals is projected to rise 31 percent in Montana from 2012 to 2022. Job opportunities for marketing managers are also expected to increase, with a 23 percent spike in employment predicted for the same decade.
Earning a degree in dental hygiene is typically the fastest way to become a dental hygienist. After earning an associate degree, these workers can find employment and provide hands-on care in dentist's offices around the state. Because of the overall demand for dental care, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of dental hygienists will increase 31 percent from 2012 to 2022.
With mining making up such a big part of the state's economy, a degree in mining engineering could pay off. Due to continued demand for the state's natural resources, government figures show that employment of mining and geological engineers could increase by as much as 28 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Like all of health care, jobs in respiratory therapy are expected to experience significant growth in the coming years. And with a degree in respiratory therapy or respiratory therapy technology, you could get a start in this thriving industry. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that employment of respiratory therapists and respiratory therapy technicians in Montana could increase by as much as 25 and 24 percent, respectively, from 2012 to 2022.
Earning a degree in paralegal studies is the most common path to starting a career as a paralegal or legal assistant. Because of a continued demand for legal services in Montana, jobs in this field are expected to surge. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, paralegals and legal assistants are projected to see employment growth of 23 percent in the state from 2012 to 2022.
A degree in engineering could lead to a career in a number of fast-paced industries within the realm of engineering, design, and construction. Further, government figures show that employment for certain types of engineers in Montana could explode in the coming decade. Specifically, job openings for electronics engineers, environmental engineers, and civil engineers are expected to increase 27 percent, 26 percent, and 25 percent, respectively, through 2022.
A degree in registered nursing could help you begin a rewarding career as a nurse in a hospital, clinic, or office setting. Because of the overall demand for health care nationwide, employment of nursing professionals is expected to grow steadily over the coming decade -- up to 20 percent from 2012 to 2022.
Top Cities for Montana College Students
As the largest city in Montana and the principal city of the Billings metropolitan area, one might think that Billings would be large in size and population. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. As of 2013, U.S. Census figures show the city had a population of only 109,059.
Relatively low housing costs and high rates of educational attainment help add to the area's popularity, however. In 2013, roughly 30.5 percent of Billings adults held a bachelor's degree or higher, yet the median housing value was only $180,900.
In addition to a strong economy, Billings features local attractions such as Pompey's Pillar, Pictograph Cave, Zoo Montana, and the Yellowstone Art Museum. The city also features a total of four institutions of higher education. Here are the region's most prominent colleges and universities:
Montana State University - Billings
As one of Montana's premier institutions, Montana State University in Billings has been a trailblazer in both traditional and online education. In addition to a wide range of on-campus degree programs, MSU Billings offers 23 degrees that can be completed entirely online -- more than any other school in the state. Enrollment included 4,768 students for the 2014-15 school year, and tuition and fees averaged out to $5,780. Here are a few degree programs MSU Billings has become known for:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Public Relations
- Online Bachelor of Science in Health Administration
- Online Associate of Science in Business Administration
Rocky Mountain College
As the oldest college in Montana, Rocky Mountain College is steeped in local culture and history. However, over time, this small school has grown to offer a wide range of educational opportunities for students, with the option to earn a degree in 53 separate concentrations or disciplines. Enrollment for the 2014-15 school year included 1,007 students, and tuition and fees worked out to $24,530. A few of their most popular programs include:
- Business Administration
- Exercise Science
- Aviation/Airway Management and Operations
City College at MSU Billings
City College at MSU Billings is a two-year career preparation and college transfer institution aimed at preparing students for the workforce or transfer to a four-year school. And as a community college, City College is able to keep the cost of obtaining this education relatively low. For the 2014-15 school year, students paid only $3,782 for tuition and fees on average. The school is known for these top programs:
- Construction Technology - Carpentry
- Energy Technician
- Practical Nursing Associate of Applied Science
Missoula is the state's second largest city, and was home to approximately 69,122 residents in 2013. Home to the University of Montana, the city's economy is centered on health care and education. In fact, two of the three largest employers in Missoula are local hospitals.
With plenty of natural beauty, Missoula is a hot spot for outdoor recreation and nature lovers. Local festivals are also popular, such as the International Wildlife Film Festival and Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
Approximately 43.8 percent of Missoula adults held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2013, which might be attributed to the bounty of top schools in the area. The following Missoula schools are the most prominent:
University of Montana
As a prominent research school in the area, the University of Montana attracts the best and brightest students and educators. And with 13,952 students enrolled for the 2014-15 school year, the University of Montana is also one of the region's largest schools. It is extremely affordable, however. For the 2014-15 school year, tuition and fees averaged out to only $6,099. The University of Montana is also known for these popular degrees:
- Associate in Accounting Technology
- Bachelor's in Business Administration
- Bachelor's in Management Information Systems
University of Montana - Missoula College
Missoula College offers two-year degrees and transfer programs under its parent school, the University of Montana. A career and transfer-oriented institution, Missoula College features 35 programs aimed at preparing students for vocational and technical careers. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year averaged out to $3,498 for in-state students, and the school is known for these top programs:
- Associate of Applied Science in Accounting Technology
- Associate of Arts in Communication Studies
- Associate of Arts in Behavioral Science
As Montana's third largest city and principal city of the Great Falls metropolitan area, Great Falls was home to approximately 59,351 residents as of 2013. However, its relatively small size hasn't held it back in terms of culture and its love for the arts. Not only does Great Falls have its own symphony orchestra, but it also boasts an indoor sports arena, Four Seasons Arena. Further, an international airport resides in the city, along with the Malmstrom Airforce Base.
Students who pursue a life in Great Falls will also be happy to find a relatively low cost of living. For example, the median housing value in 2013 was a fair $157,300.
Several prominent schools also dot the area, which adds to its perceived value and economic value. These are the most popular schools in Great Falls:
University of Great Falls
The University of Great Falls is a private, Roman Catholic institution with a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1. Currently, the school offers 40 undergraduate, eight graduate, and several online degrees in Montana. Enrollment for the 2014-15 school year included 1,117 students, and tuition and fees averaged out to $21,556. These are some of the programs they're known for:
- Online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Online Bachelor of Science in Legal and Paralegal Studies
- Nursing Degree Completion Program
Great Falls College - Montana State University
With a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1, Great Falls College aims to foster a learning environment with a small group feel. Current enrollment includes 1,772 students, and tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year came out to an affordable $3,094. The school offers a wide range of degrees and certificate programs, including these popular options:
- Associate of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene
- Associate of Applied Science in Health Information Technology
- Associate of Applied Science in Practical Nursing
Scholarships and Financial Aid
If you're considering an on-campus or online degree in Montana, it's important to learn about all of the financial aid opportunities that may be available to you. For instance, Montana students can qualify for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
Other types of aid may also be available, depending on your specific circumstances. According to the Montana University System, these options might include grants, loans, scholarships, tuition waivers, veteran's benefits, and work-study opportunities. The Montana Higher Education Grant and the Montana Tuition Assistance Program (MTAP) are two state-sponsored, need-based aid opportunities for Montana students.
To learn more about these programs and other aid options, check with your school's financial aid office.
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May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_mt.htm
Montana's Largest Industry, Montana.gov, http://agr.mt.gov/agr/Consumer/AgFacts/
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Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time
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