MISSOULA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer told University of Montana students that he would like to hold the line on college tuition costs, but the cost of higher education is a decision left up to the state Board of Regents.
“I proposed holding the line and I would still like to hold the line,” said Schweitzer, who was honored Monday by the UM student organization MontPIRG for his efforts in the North Fork of the Flathead River drainage.
Last week, Schweitzer negotiated with Republicans to restore $15.5 million to the Montana university system budget, but that still leaves a $13.8 million shortfall compared with the previous two-year budget.
“The state funding with education is as important of an investment as you can make, and I’m pleased that they can restore as much funding as they can,” Regents Chairman Clay Christian told the Missoulian. “I’m encouraged that there’s a compromise out there that everyone can support, and I’m hopeful to fill even more of the hole.”
The regents are scheduled to meet next month to set their budget.
One of the biggest issues for the campuses is a pay plan the state negotiated with unions calling for pay increases for state workers, including university faculty, staff and administrators. Salaries make up about 60 percent of the university system’s budget, Christian said.
Last week, the House voted against the state worker pay increase, but Schweitzer has implied that he won’t let that vote stand. The House was expected to revisit that issue this week.
The regents asked each campus to develop proposals that address both modest tuition increases and scenarios if tuition stays at current levels, Christian said. They also asked students and campuses to discuss the definition of a “quality” education and whether that might include smaller classes with adjunct faculty or larger classes from a tenured professor.
“I’ve never thought the board has much of an appetite for a double-digit increase,” Christian said. The restored funding “has helped and the board will try to do all it can to keep education as affordable as possible. Some will depend on what, if anything, happens with the pay plan.”
The regents cannot stomach more than a “modest” tuition increase, if any, Christian said. It’s also likely the board will try to hold steady the cost of attending a two-year college over the next two years, he said.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.