By Martin Kidston
Catherine Getic sat behind her desk on Monday considering the students down the hall studying to become medical assistants, each looking to land a job in Missoula’s growing health-care industry.
Next April, they will become the first to graduate from Charter College – a private, independent institution that placed roots in Missoula last March and began offering classes in June.
“Before any ground breaking happens, we look at the job market and what programs we have in our company that we can offer as a resource for the community and the potential students in the area,” said Getic. “We’re not going to put a program here that doesn’t have the job availability.”
Charter College may be new to Missoula, but it’s not new in a handful of other locations. The college was founded in Alaska in 1985 to bring flexible career programming to Anchorage without students having to enroll in a traditional college program to land good-paying jobs.
Three decades later, the college claims 15 campuses in Alaska, California, New Mexico, Washington and Montana, including those in Missoula and Billings. The school offers more than 30 career-focused programs in a number of promising job sectors, including the health-care industry.
“Medical is definitely a booming industry in Missoula, and it’s growing rapidly,” said Getic. “With my meetings with hospitals in this area and up to Kalispell, the need for medical assistants, and well-educated medical assistants, is just exploding.”
Seated behind her desk in the Holiday Village Shopping Center where the college is based, Getic described the programs ranging from business to information technology. All are offered online with the exception of the medical assistant program, which requires a combination of hands-on training and online testing.
Students are offered one of two modules, one running from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., or from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. True to its diversion from a traditional college program, students sit for classes just two days a week.
“We market and serve a different type student, someone who’s not looking for that traditional education experience, or someone who wants something that’s extremely fast paced,” she said. “We fill our class schedule a little differently to accommodate working-class schedules.”
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s latest employment projections, jobs in the health sciences that require some post-secondary education but no degree are expected to grow between 10.7 percent and 28.6 percent.
In 2014, the state estimated there were 836 jobs as a medical assistant, though that’s expected to grow to nearly 1,000 by 2024. The annual openings due to growth are projected at 15, while the annual openings due to job replacements are 16 each year, combining for an annual growth rate of 17.8 percent.
The median wage in the field in Montana is $30,505, according to the state.
“The last five weeks of the program is a five week internship where students actually go out and work in the field,” said Getic, saying the school arranges the internship. “They’re practicing the skills they learned here hands-on and taking it into the workforce to show an employer what they’ve been learning.”
Charter College also provides students with financial aid, including both state and federal grants and loans. The instructors are sourced out of Missoula, Getic said, including the program’s three medical assistant instructors and another who teaches student success.
To date, Getic said, the program has enrolled roughly 40 students.
“We want to be an educated resource for employers,” said Getic. “We want them to come and look at us for well-educated medical assistants who are going to come into their field, into their practice, and be ready to hit the ground.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org