Day 4- Montana’s Higher Ed Budget Crisis

The big headline locally today was Governor Bullock’s outlandish comments that the Montana University System maybe have to consider closing a college campus to absorb the GOP’s budget cuts being proposed right now. This headline was purely an attention getter, but it does speak to a much bigger problem. The Article

Right now, the legislative budget calls for a 23.3 million dollar cut. If that number stays, the MUS system will have to make some major changes, most likely raising tuition significantly (over $1000 per year at least).

Why you might ask, well $23 million dollars is more than the state gives UM-Helena, Great Falls College MSU, and UM-Western- COMBINED

In fact, there are 6 colleges in Montana that receive less than 23 million per year from the state budget, so if they were to have to close a school, it would probably come from this list. (this doesn’t even include the other community colleges)

  • $5.8 million for Helena College
  • $7.6 million for Great Falls College
  • $7.8 million for UM-Western
  • $11.4 million for MSU-Northern
  • $16 million for MT-Tech
  • $23 million for MSU-Billings

From the article, they specifically pointed out that it cost taxpayers more per student than the average and with this deficit, it would be easy to see it on the chopping block.

“at MSU-Northern in Havre, for instance, it costs $10,878 in state support to educate one full-time student, according to data from MUS; that’s more than the $7,335 average, and beyond the “efficiency range” of $4,835 to $9,835 identified by the system.”

While closing Northern, wouldn’t kill Havre, it would seriously damage the already struggling Hi-Line center. It would also hurt the growing nursing shortage in small rural hospitals and take away one of the most affordable college options for students.

As a high school counselor, I have seen a trend of students being more fiscally aware when making their college decisions. I have seen top students, who would have previously attended prestigious out of state programs, opt to stay in-state to save money, in fact, the past 2 years, our top math and science students have chosen to got to MSU over free ride offers to out of state programs. But if tuition were to rise significantly and with the state cutting scholarship programs, the incentive for our best students to stay home will be diminished and enrollments will continue to drop, cause a snowball effect of more cuts being needed. With the average student debt of a Montana college graduate being over $25K something will need to change and raising tuition will only make the dream of college more out of reach for our poorest students. Couple that with new changes to free and reduced lunch, increasing vouchers for private schools, and the idea of a free and equal education will be a thing of the past. The eventual outcome of this all will be a working class and an educated class. And that is a damn shame!

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