University System Eyes Final Budget Cut Decision

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Montana university system could cut its budget close to 5 percent at a meeting Thursday, a decision that may lead to larger class sizes and less student help with tuition.

The cuts, estimated at about $7 million, follow a request from Gov. Brian Schweitzer to trim the budget as he has done in the rest of state government. The Board of Regents will be analyzing a final package of cuts put together by staff.

A decision is expected at the meeting Thursday, although the board could delay the matter and ask for more adjustments.

The university system said students could feel some of the effects, including a reduction in tuition assistance given to a variety of groups through scholarships, work study and other areas.

“There will be certain impacts to the campuses, whether it be larger classes or fewer classes. Those impacts will be seen by students,” said Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Mick Robinson.

Schweitzer already has cut other areas of state government by about the same percentage, an amount totaling about $40 million. Those cuts canceled promised rate increases for providers of services to the needy, reduced support to K-12 schools and made other reductions.

Research agencies are among the hardest hit with the cuts proposed by the Montana University System, although the current proposal is less than originally anticipated in this area. Agricultural experiment stations, the extension service, the fire services training school and other areas are cut 8 percent for a total of $1.8 million.

Student assistance for tuition will be cut close to $1 million. Other trims target distance learning, office support, work force development and other areas.

The regents have no plans to raise tuition to make ends meet. The Regents constitutionally have control over how their budget is spent, and can raise tuition without the permission of the governor’s office.

Robinson said more cuts will be contemplated into the next budget period. For instance, the University of Montana has been exploring the possibility of switching to four-day weeks as a way to trim spending.

“It is all trying to respond to a level of funding that we all expect will be lower in the next biennium than it is presently,” he said.

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