Gallatin College, CNC Class

Students work on CNC machines in Aubrin Heinrich’s class at Gallatin College in 2019.

Gallatin College is set to receive nearly $2 million from Gallatin County’s pool of American Rescue Plan Act funding, with the college being the first recipient of the county’s coronavirus relief fund allotment.

The money would go to expanding course offerings over the next three years from the trade college, which could increase members of the workforce in trades like manufacturing, welding and health care. A childcare program for students could be on its way, too.

The Gallatin County Commission voted unanimously to pass the agreement on Tuesday. Commissioner Joe Skinner said he was thankful that the county was able to use the federal money to multiply the workforce.

“I’m thrilled to be able to use part of our ARPA funding for this cause,” Skinner said at the county commission meeting. “As we all know, the workforce crisis in this county — well, nationwide — but in this county, there’s just not enough skilled workers to go around.”

Stephanie Gray, the dean of Gallatin College, said the money would be used for the expansion of courses into a work-based model. That model would move students outside of the classroom and into workspaces for hands-on learning.

The college is stretched across four buildings around Bozeman, but the room for growth is dwindling.

“Without this funding, we were probably not going to be able to continue to grow more programs because of our space issues,” Gray said in an interview.

The coronavirus relief money will allow faculty to scout locations and workspaces to bring students and give teachers time to adapt their lesson plans to an environment outside of the classroom.

Gray said that students needing childcare has been a barrier to enrolling in workforce programs like the ones offered at Gallatin College. Last year, the college started offering childcare assistance to individual students.

Programs typically start during the late afternoon around 3 or 4. The plan would be to partner with a childcare facility to stay open later for students to drop their kids off, Gray said.

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s Labor Day Report indicated that only 44 percent of childcare needs were being met across the state before the pandemic, and has since been exacerbated.

School and day care closures caused during the early days of the pandemic caused roughly 55,000 parents to reduce their work hours to take care of their kids, according to the report.

While a new building to house the growing college — which enrolled 673 students this fall — won’t be in the works from this pool of money, the federal dollars do allow for growth beyond the constraints of limited classroom space.

“We’re really glad that the commission trusts us enough to get this job done, and we’re looking forward to working with our industry partners out there who are going to support us to get the curriculum done, and hopefully we’ll get more students to look at a two-year education,” Gray said.