HELENA – Montana university students will be hit with the largest tuition increases seen since 2006 after college leaders decided Friday that a hike of more than 10 percent over the next two years is needed amid state government budget cuts.
The Board of Regents also approved the first community college tuition hike in four years, with increases ranging from 2 percent to about 11 percent over two years. College of technology tuition will remain the same.
The four-year schools will raise tuition 5 percent in 2012 and another 5 percent on top of that in 2013 — or about 10.3 percent over the two-year period.
Higher education system leaders say the increase is needed to make ends meet after the Legislature cut back on proposed funding levels. Republican leaders said that the college system should not be spared cuts being implemented across state government, especially since tuition on Montana is much less than in other states.
Fees were also increased at the schools, including a $700,000 increase at the University of Montana to create a women’s softball team. The school said the program was needed to keep up with federal requirements that women’s sports are equitable with men’s sports.
University system leaders said the tuition increase is the bare minimum needed and won’t be enough to fill a projected funding gap. A loss in some services was inevitable, details of which will become available as each campus prepares a budget based on the available money. The regents will review those budgets next month.
Resident tuition at Montana State University in Bozeman will go from $2,418 per semester to $2,667 by 2013. At the University of Montana, it goes from $1,983 to $2,187. Nonresident tuition will also be increasing.
“In Montana, it is still relatively reasonable. Not without sacrifice, but still relatively reasonable for many, many students,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns. “It is a very conservative proposal.”
The governor’s office says the final budget deal negotiated with the Republican-led Legislature falls about $21 million short for higher education compared to what the office thought was needed to make ends meet.
Student leaders at the regents meeting pushed back, arguing there had been little time to digest the proposal.
Associated Students of the University of Montana’s President Jenifer Gursky said students had been prepping for a proposal that called for a 3 percent increase in each of the next two years. She said students deserve a longer look at the projection for tuition in the coming years.
Regents froze college tuition in 2007, followed by a 3 percent increase in 2009 at the biggest campuses.
School leaders said the money will, in part, be used to help ensure access to needed classes.
“We need to make sure we not only have great faculty, but enough faculty in front of our students to make sure they get the education they deserve,” said University of Montana president Royce Engstrom.
One regent, Todd Buchanan of Billings, opposed the increase. He said the austere budget message sent from the Legislature should prompt the college system to revamp the way it does business, rather than turn to students for more money.
“I think the message is, we need to do it differently,” said Buchanan. “I have a hard time tapping into the most strained resource pool to fund what we have been doing.”
Others argued the increase is needed, along with belt-tightening.
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