MISSOULA – The Montana Board of Regents discussed proposed in-state tuition freezes, state funding and faculty pay during a two-day meeting in Missoula.
Gov. Steve Bullock told the regents his proposed budget includes a $44 million increase for the university system over the next two budget years, giving campuses enough money to meet their current levels of service without raising in-state tuition, said Kevin McRae, deputy Commissioner of Higher Education for Communications and Human Resources.
The governor’s proposed budget includes funding requested by the university system to cover growth in a veterinary program and WWAMI, a medical education and training program that includes students in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.
“Those pieces are where I hoped they’d be,” said Commissioner Clayton Christian. “The budget freezes tuition, but it doesn’t freeze expenditures, and I think that’s an important distinction to make.”
The presidents of Montana State University and the University of Montana said they are having difficulty recruiting and retaining quality faculty because they can make more money at similar universities in other states, the Missoulian reported.
Both UM and MSU have created pools of money to help recruit faculty members who expect a competitive wage and to raise the pay of existing faculty members tempted to leave for higher-paying jobs at other universities, UM President Royce Engstrom and MSU President Waded Cruzado said.
The regents approved a plan by UM to build a $14 million facility with a new football locker room and a two-story weight room. UM has $9.5 million in donations and received permission to finance up to $5 million to cover the remaining costs.
Separately, the governor’s proposed budget includes $28 million to renovate Romney Hall, a former gymnasium and pool building at MSU, into a student academic support center.
During meetings on Thursday, Christian told regents the Montana university system must be ready to respond more quickly to change and be able to create programs to train workers needed for jobs in the state.
“The world is moving at a different pace and I’m committed to seeing a system that meets that responsiveness,” Christian said. “We know we’re a large ship, but we can turn that ship and do it at the pace Montana needs us to.”
The university system faces a few more years of smaller high school graduating classes, meaning fewer students available to enroll in college, officials said.
Tyler Trevor, deputy commissioner for planning and analysis, said figures indicate the trend will reverse itself in 2018 and the size of graduating classes will increase. Trevor says the state’s dual-enrollment program — which allows high school students to receive college credits at reduced costs for some high school courses they take — is leading to more students considering college.
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