Carroll College pre-law students

Carroll College pre-law students work in a Helena courtroom.

The University of Montana and Carroll College on Tuesday announced a new partnership that will allow students to earn graduate degrees in law and public administration while shaving time off their college experience.

The centerpiece of the partnership is the 3+3 program, which will let students earn both a bachelor's degree and a Juris Doctorate after three years at Carroll and three years at UM's Alexander Blewett III School of Law.

"This is really a historic moment for Carroll College and University of Montana," said Carroll President John Cech. "It's a great example of a public/private partnership, but also an example of meeting the needs of Montanans." 

According to Cech, Carroll has seen an enrollment increase in its pre-law program for the past few years. This partnership aims to meet the demand for this type of education and streamline the process.

It typically takes seven years to complete a Juris Doctorate, and Cech estimates that cutting out the seventh year of school will save students around $100,000.

Paul Kirgis, dean of UM's law school, said he hopes the program will meet the needs of Montanans and reduce the overall debt burden for students. The program is the first partnership outside of the UM network for the law school, Kirgis explained. 

"Montana needs lawyers who are committed to service," Kirgis said.

During the fourth year of the program, a student will be enrolled in UM's law school before graduating from Carroll. The credits earned while attending UM will transfer back to Carroll, allowing the student to earn a bachelor's degree. It's important to note that students must still apply and be accepted into law school to continue the program.

"We want to provide pathways for those Montana kids who want nothing more than to give back to their community," Kirgis said. "We feel very confident that we will get excellent students from Carroll College." 

For Cech, this partnership is another step toward the school's mission to expand access to graduate school education.

"We obviously are not going to start a law school here at Carroll," Cech said. "Graduate programs are very important to us. This is an important part of that goal."

The second part of the partnership is the 4+1 program, which will let students earn a master's degree in public administration after four years at Carroll and one at UM. UM's master's in public administration is the only accredited program of its kind in Montana, according to program director Sara Rinfret. This partnership aims to cut out the sixth year that is typically needed to earn this graduate degree. 

Cech said this partnership took approximately six months to become official. He hopes it will show Montana's legislators and Board of Regents that Montana's colleges and universities work hard to create pathways to affordable education. 

"This is about leveraging the resources we already have in Montana," Cech said. "I think it's a win for the university students, a win for Carroll and a win for Montana." 

Previously, Carroll entered a similar partnership with Montana State University in Bozeman for a 3+2 program that lets students earn a bachelor's degree in math and a master's degree in engineering after three years at Carroll and two years at MSU.

Carroll implemented its first graduate degree last year, a master's degree in accounting. Cech said the college is currently developing two more graduate programs, a doctor of nurse practitioner and master's in social work. Currently, the college is searching for directors for the new programs. 

Carroll also has several partnership programs with Helena College.

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