Flathead Valley Community College could face losing $1.2 million in state funding if the Legislature’s budget proposal goes through, portending a potential increase in tuition and narrowing of programs offered at the school.
According to FVCC president Jane Karas, the cuts that lawmakers are proposing for higher education could effectively lead to more expenses for students and fewer classes.
“It means it could be a 15 to 18 percent tuition hike,” Karas said in an interview last week.
If the changes to the appropriation formula for two-year colleges go through, there would be less money going to FVCC, Dawson Community College, and Miles Community College.
The formula itself is written into Montana law and involves several factors, including the amount of full-time students at the college, how much education costs per student, and the budget from the previous year. The Legislature determined that this formula would account for the cost of education, and that the state should fund 50.8 percent of that number.
The Appropriations Subcommittee on Education recommended decreasing the percentage to 47.05, which passed out of committee and made it into House Bill 2, the budget bill, which the state House passed and sent to the Senate last week.
Reducing FVCC’s budget by $1.2 million would likely affect programming as well as tuition, Karas said. The school might not be able to offer a certain class every semester, and some classes might have reduced days on which they are offered.
Karas said the state’s funding mechanism is already tough on FVCC because 62 percent of the school’s students take classes on a part-time basis, meaning at least two or three are counted as one full-time equivalent student.
“Those are a lot of people who work and go to school full-time,” Karas said.
Ninety-six percent of FVCC’s students are Montanans, with 92 percent from Flathead and neighboring counties. The 2017 spring semester saw 2,447 students taking classes, a slight increase from spring 2016. Karas said 70 percent of the student body qualifies for financial assistance.
Karas said the college is continually in conversations with local employers about their needs and wants to develop programs to fit those needs. This was a big theme during the recession, when the school had a 55 percent enrollment increase as well as additions to the two-year programs and four-year partnerships with state universities.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” she said. “We’ve been able to add new programs.”
Some of the most popular additions were in advanced manufacturing and firearms technology, and Karas said the college gets students from around the state for its unique programs in surveying, culinary arts, brewery science, and goldsmithing. Also, the school’s health care programs continue robustly, given the need to fill health care jobs in the valley.
The school hopes to add a new medical lab technician program in the fall.
“I think everybody in this state and in Northwest Montana understands the importance of education,” Karas said.
The college is almost done with its $7.7 million student-housing facility, which houses 124 beds. Applications for those beds are already coming in. And on April 7, the college will host the public for its 50th anniversary Founders’ Day Celebration on the campus green from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Karas said the Flathead’s legislative delegation has been open and supportive regarding her concerns. The state budget bill was transmitted to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, where it will face many hearings and potential amendments before hitting the Senate floor for another chance at amendments and a vote.