Ron Slinger

The ongoing changes to our state’s economy present opportunities and challenges that our education system must address. We need to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in today’s economy and have the skills to adapt to future opportunities.

To that end, I’d like to take this opportunity to describe a couple of the ways this is being tackled by our state’s education and industry leaders in the form of Work-Based Learning and flag a few important dates to ensure your community takes advantage of some upcoming opportunities.

To start, it’s important that we have a common understanding of what’s meant by ‘Work-Based Learning’ (WBL) models. Montana’s Legislature and state education partners have led efforts to define work-based learning and outline eligible activities that can be found in Montana Code Annotated 20-7-15 and 16. Specific examples of learning options within this continuum include internships, job shadowing, apprenticeships, and other opportunities that result in a micro-credential, stackable credential, or certification. With this understanding let’s dive into the programs here in Montana that I mentioned above.

The ‘Transformational Learning’ and ‘Advanced Opportunities’ programs through the Office of Public Instruction are timely and innovative initiatives that support local school districts to include work-based learning experiences in their respective systems.

Transformational Learning Grants are available to Montana school districts to support and implement a proficiency-based education system. Montana law defines this as “an education system in which student progress is based on a student's demonstration of competence rather than on the basis of seat time or the age or grade level of the student."

Montana schools can also apply for Advanced Opportunities Grants, to support students and families by reducing out-of-pocket costs for students to participate in student-selected learning, including WBL. A few outcomes that this funding helped to achieve include:

  • Conrad funded a Trades Academy, and supported industry-recognized credentials in plumbing, dental, electrical, pharmaceutical, and drone operations.
  • Reed Point funded college credits, CTE programs, and Vet Tech industry certifications.
  • Park High School funded dual enrollment, advanced placement and early college opportunities; work-based learning; and stackable credentials.

The examples mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg of the story of these programs’ impact. Because of these programs and other initiatives across the state, Montana is well-positioned to continue as a national leader in ensuring its learners are supported to participate in meaningful and relevant work-based learning experiences.

If you find these examples as persuasive as me, a good next step is to contact your local school district to learn about their plans to participate in the Transformational Learning and Advanced Opportunity programs. As I mentioned above, there are a few important deadlines that I’d like to draw your attention to related to these programs, the most important of which is Dec. 4 when the application period for both programs opens (and closes on Jan. 8, 2024). Additional information about these programs and the upcoming deadlines can be found in the links below, including links to recorded webinars that covered a variety of topics.

Transformational Learning

Advanced Opportunities

The only way these programs can provide support is if your local school district submits an application, and I encourage you to indicate your interest in these opportunities to them.

Miles City College President Ron Slinger is a member of Montana’s Work-Based Learning Collaborative