Education Officials Hold Forums at FVCC

By Beacon Staff

State education officials took questions today about why, while Montana’s universities are enjoying a two-year tuition cap, community colleges are not receiving the same perk.

Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns and Board of Regents Chair Lynn Hamilton are hosting community forums discussing the Montana University System in the Flathead Valley Wednesday and Thursday.

Stearns and Hamilton met with community members at 7 a.m. Wednesday and again with media at 11 a.m. at the Flathead Valley Community College. There is a third community meeting at 3 p.m. Wednesday in room 139 of the Arts and Technology Building.

Conversation at the 11 a.m. meeting revolved mainly around questions from student representatives of FVCC’s campus newspaper, The Mercury News, about the exclusion of the state’s community colleges from the tuition cap passed in the most recent legislative session.

Stearns said the state’s three community colleges – FVCC, Dawson County Community College, and Miles City Community College – were “unfortunately excluded from communication about the tuition cap until it was too late for them” to make budget arrangements. “We should’ve picked up the phone earlier to begin negotiations. There may have been a different result,” she said.

While schools that were part of the university system saw no increase in tuition costs, FVCC’s tuition increased by 21 percent. FVCC President Jane Karas said she didn’t think the sharp increase excluded any interested students from attending the community college, because scholarships and loans were still available for those with financial need. FVCC also saw an increase in enrollment this year.

Stearns said that while the exclusion was “unfortunate,” it’s important that the outcome – capping tuition for about 35,000 of the states 37,000 students – was a great outcome for a first time attempt at such legislation. She said the Board of Regents hopes to include community colleges in a possible cap during the 2009 legislature.

Stearns and Hamilton will also hold community forums in Lincoln County Thursday with an early session at 7 a.m. at Lincoln County High School in Eureka and a 10:30 a.m. session at the FVCC Lincoln County Campus in Libby.

Stearns said she and the regents are about halfway through their community forum tour which will include about 40 sessions in eight regions across the state. “Our goal is to get more feedback from the community, to see if our goals are ones they agree with and what questions they may have. So far, it’s been very successful; there has been general support and pressure to do more.”

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