State University System Prepares for Budget Shortfall

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – Montana State University officials are trying to adjust after they were told Tuesday that the state university system is expected to face a $17.6 million hole in its budget when federal stimulus money runs out in two years.

Jim Rimpau, MSU vice president for planning; and Craig Roloff, vice president for finance, say the university’s $130 million general fund budget will probably lose $2.7 million to $3.1 million a year when the stimulus money is gone in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The projection was presented Tuesday at a meeting of MSU’s 21-member budget committee.

Federal stimulus money allowed the campuses to avoid “falling over a financial cliff” for the next two years, Roloff said. “Now we must fundamentally change or reform to avoid going over a cliff.”

The Montana Board of Regents asked state campus leaders to report back by November with their reform plans, parts of which will probably be put into effect even before the federal stimulus money dries up.

Rimpau said MSU’s budget committee, which made $1 million in budget cuts across campus in June, already has set up a nine-member group to look for ways to tighten spending. The group recently sent out an e-mail across campus asking for ideas, and received about 150 responses — many of them suggesting energy-saving measures.

Rimpau said other ideas included four-day work weeks, furloughs, closing campus over winter and spring breaks, early retirements and eliminating the “flat spot” in tuition, which allows students to take more credits at no additional cost.

Roloff said the university system could also try to boost enrollment, cut spending and unpopular programs, expand distance education, offer night classes and try to lower the dropout rate.