The Oct. 28 edition of The Billings Gazette ran an Associated Press story below an accurate headline of a troublesome national trend: “College tuition costs climbing again this fall.”
In Montana, however, we are proudly bucking that trend to keep high-quality education accessible and affordable for students and families.
Nationally, tuition and fees rose 6 percent this year at public two-year colleges and 7.9 percent at public four-year universities. The Montana story is different. The five two-year colleges governed by the Montana Board of Regents are in their fourth consecutive year of zero-percent raises, as are four of the six four-year universities governed by the regents.
The tuition increase at nine of Montana's 11 public colleges and universities for each of the last four years is zero percent. Yes, zero.
Two campuses — the University of Montana in Missoula and Montana State University in Bozeman — raised tuition just 3 percent this year and last year, following two years of zero increases. The decision by the regents to implement even this modest tuition hike was not one made easily. The debate was one of the most intense board discussions I have ever been a part of, and the decision passed by only one vote, punctuating this board's commitment to keeping costs low.
Why is the Montana University System bucking the trend?
The first goal of the Montana Board of Regents Strategic Plan is clear: “Access and Affordability — Increase the overall educational attainment of Montanans through increased participation, retention and completion rates in the Montana University System.” Before Montanans can complete college, they have to be able to afford college.
An efficient system
Montana's higher education system was recently recognized as one of the most efficient in the country. We educate students at one of the lowest costs per student across the nation and the quality experience our students are receiving is evidenced by high job placement rates and fantastic performance on professional exams such as the CPA exam and the North American Pharmacy Licensing Exam as well as other highly recognized aptitude exams such as the LSAT and MCAT. We're serving more students today than ever before. This is a success story and one Montanans can be proud of!
Todd Buchanan of Billings is a stock broker and a member of the Montana Board of Regents.