MSU leader challenged to do more with less

2010-01-28T00:05:00Z MSU leader challenged to do more with less The Billings Gazette
January 28, 2010 12:05 am

Just getting acquainted with Montanans in her third week in the job of Montana State University president, Waded Cruzado is already confronting budget cuts.

“Before I announce a plan for the entire university, I want to invest time in meeting the people, faculty, students, staff, parents,” she told The Billings Gazette editorial board on a visit to Billings this week. “For Montana State, the entire state is our campus.” MSU includes college campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls and Havre.

Cruzado and MSU Billings Chancellor Ron Sexton told the editorial board that the budget-cutting plans on the regents’ agenda today are still “fairly generic.” Specific, line item cuts haven’t been identified for most of the $7.56 million reduction. However, $5.2 million of that would come from university campuses, including about $770,000 from Billings.

Meeting by teleconference at 9 this morning, the Montana Board of Regents will hear a proposal for cutting the higher education budget by 5 percent. Gov. Brian Schweitzer has directed other state agencies to identify potential 5 percent general fund cuts by Friday. Although the governor can’t mandate, mid-biennium cuts to the university system, the Board of Regents has indicated that it will participate in the statewide cost-cutting because state revenue collections have fallen far below what was projected a year ago.

Spending less is a greater challenge for MSU because enrollment has increased during the recession. With fewer good jobs available, more people — especially midcareer adults — are choosing to upgrade their education and work skills now. At the Billings main campus and College of Technology, the additional student enrollment is bringing in about $600,000 in unanticipated tuition and fees. However, tuition and fees don’t cover the full cost of serving resident students, so the university must try to stretch a state subsidy that is being cut to serve a larger number of Montanans.

As Sexton said, it’s “a healthy sign to have more students,” but “it does create a dilemma.”

“In times like these, we go back to identify our core mission,” Cruzado said.

Cruzado repeatedly pointed to student retention as a priority, finding out what students need to be successful and helping them get those things from their university. Keeping students in school till they graduate also enhances university revenue, she noted.

Cruzado is no stranger to fundraising. In her previous work in New Mexico, she helped establish endowed chairs in arts and sciences.

“Fundraising has to be about friend raising,” she said.

Cruzado wants to harness “the power of one university.” She wants to break down silos that separate campuses and programs. She started an interactive Monday morning memo to share information and generate conversation between MSU campuses.

Cruzado makes a great first impression. Her dynamic, positive personality is an asset as MSU looks to long-term educational goals and immediate spending cuts. MSU has a new leader who understands that collaboration and communication are key to weathering this storm.

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