MUS Summit Aims to Increase College Retention, Graduation

October 24, 2017

MISSOULA – A Complete College Montana Summit will be held Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the University of Montana. Hosted by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education and Complete College America, the event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the University Center Ballroom.

This summit will include stakeholders from across the Montana University System, as well as public school and Montana tribal colleges representatives, with the goal of implementing game-changing student success strategies designed to increase college retention and graduation.

The event represents early efforts of the newly formed Complete College Montana Team, a group of higher education leaders who have been selected to guide college completion efforts throughout the Treasure State. In addition to leading state efforts, the team will participate in CCA meetings and summits, sharing insights with a national network of states, systems, regions and institutions and collaborating with college completion experts to accelerate their work.

Summit presenters will include Clayton Christian, Montana commissioner of higher education; Tom Sugar, president of Complete College America; Bruce Vandal, senior vice president of Complete College America; Dhanfu Elston, vice president of Complete College America; Jim Dragna, executive director of university initiatives and student success, California State University, Sacramento; James McCoy, assistant vice president of academic affairs, College of Southern Nevada; Brian French, executive director of UM’s Office for Student Success; John Cech, MUS deputy commissioner for academic, research and student affairs; and Erik Rose, MUS director of workforce initiatives and information.

About 150 attendees are expected, including faculty, staff and administrators from every public postsecondary institution in Montana, as well as six tribal college presidents, high school counselors and administrators, state government officials and content experts from across the country.

Since 2013, Montana has committed to working with Complete College America to increase the percentage of Montanans with a postsecondary credential. Montana has successfully executed several key components of this initiative such as creating performance based funding, expanding dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, redesigning developmental education to better serve students who enter college academically underprepared and aligning degree requirements with relevant math coursework.

The next strategies Montana will design and implement include emphasizing students accumulating 15 credits per semester for on-time graduation, simplifying the maze of academic courses and student requirements by creating easy-to-follow academic maps, designing support services that increase success for adult learners, and creating structured schedules that allow students to balance work, life and academics.

“At the heart of this work is the goal to ensure that the time and money students invest in education will result in completion of a degree that prepares them to live and work in Montana,” Cech said.

The Complete College Montana Team members include Cech as the team lead, as well as:

  • Dave Gerchick, dean, Highlands College, implementation lead, two-year sector.
  • Bob Mokwa, provost, Montana State University, implementation lead, four-year sector.
  • Erik Rose, program manager, Montana University System, metrics and evidence lead.
  • Bob Hoar, provost, MSU-Billings, policy and legislation lead.
  • Siri Smillie, education policy adviser, Montana governor’s representative.
  • Paula Short, UM President’s Office director of communications, communications lead.

Established in 2009, Complete College America is a national nonprofit focused on significantly increasing the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and closing attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. For more information, visit


Contact: John Cech, deputy commissioner, Montana University System, 406-444-0316 or 406-670-0848,