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School of Outreach Celebrates 40 Years

May 15, 2017

For four decades, The University of Montana Western School of Outreach has been bringing education to the people.

Anneliese A. Ripley is the current Dean of the School of Outreach. Their evening, summer, and online courses make education a possibility for many non-traditional students, but this is just a small part of what the School of Outreach does.

On what her academic department has to offer, she said, “We do credit programs, non-credit programs, things for little kids and adults. We’re not tied to the regular academic schedule. It’s any kind of educational program that isn’t part of the regularly approved programs and degree offerings.”

The wide scope of the School of Outreach can make it difficult to narrow them down into a tidy definition: “It’s hard for people to wrap their heads around it because it’s kind of a monster. It’s all over the place,” Ripley said.

However, Ripley was able to describe the essence of the academic department: “The School of Outreach is the entrepreneurial arm of the institution. We are working to try to figure out how to package and offer educational opportunities for people who are not pursuing degrees.”

“We’re designing boutique programs for very narrowly defined target audiences,” she said.

The School of Outreach was established in 1977 by Dr. Lee Spuhler. He was a professor of education at the University of Montana Western.

As the director of what was then called Continuing Education, he focused on offering night, weekend, and summer school courses for teachers in need of continuing education units. He also began the university’s collaboration with Elderhostel.

Elderhostel has since been renamed Road Scholar. They offer “learning adventures.” These are curated trips combined with instruction by an education expert/tour guide. The School of Outreach maintains a healthy relationship with the non-profit organization to this day.

“Road Scholar was established in 1975 and Western offered its first Road Scholar program in 1978. We were right there on the leading edge. We now have over 70 programs a year with Road Scholar. It’s over a million-and-a-half in revenue,” Ripley said.

The School of Outreach also works with the Montana Youth Challenge group, helping cadets who have completed their high school equivalency test get a head start on college credits: “They can take college coursework with us. Some of their students now are completing the Challenge Program with anywhere from six to 15 college credits.”

This speaks to the flexibility of Campus Outreach: “That’s what Outreach can do. We can work with employers; we can work with programs; we can work with non-profits. We can work with in-service teachers and school districts to provide tailor-made education offerings. We have a lot of flexibility in how we can put programming together.”

Whether you’re interested in continuing education units, online courses, field studies in Yellowstone National Park, or anything in between, the School of Outreach has something for you.

Registration for their summer offerings begin May 15, 2017.

For more information visit The School of Outreach