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Regents approve tuition increase for state's 4-year campuses

Regents approve tuition increase for state's 4-year campuses

  • Updated

Tuition and fees will go up for most Montana State University Billings students in the next two years.

Meeting in Kalispell, the Montana Board of Regents voted Friday to increase tuition at the state’s four-year campuses by 5 percent for each of the next two years, but decided against tuition increases for colleges of technology.

Tuition was increased to partially make up for a cut by the 2011 Montana Legislature in the higher education budget, regents said during a lengthy discussion before their vote.

The Montana University System will get about $22.5 million less per year for the next two years compared with this biennium’s budget, said Sheila Stearns, commissioner of higher education. Because tuition increases only will bring in about $9.5 million a year, the system will deal with a $13 million shortfall.

“There will be changes on our campuses,” said Lynn Morrison-Hamilton, a Havre regent. “This is a significant cut.”

Stephen Barrett, a regent from Bozeman, said that by not adequately funding higher education, the Legislature essentially imposed a new tax on Montana students and their parents, who will pay for tuition increases.

At MSU Billings, tuition each semester will go up from this year’s $1,994 to $2,093 this fall and $2,198 in fall 2012. That’s a nearly $100 increase this fall over last year and about a $105 increase the next year. Students who pay tuition on a monthly payment plan will pay $28.50 more each month this fall.

Although that may not sound like much, “it’s real money,” particularly for students who need financial help to get through school, said MSU Billings Chancellor Rolf Groseth.

The tuition increase will help MSU Billings maintain its current level of services, but a final budget won’t be finished for several weeks, he said.

Todd Buchanan, a regent from Billings, was the only member of the board to vote against tuition increases. He said he was concerned that many Montana students couldn’t afford to pay for the increases and that there hasn’t been enough discussion about alternative methods of funding higher education.

Mandatory fees — which include library, computer and student activity fees — also will go up at most state campuses. The fee increases include $700,000 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 be equitable with men’s sports.

At both the main MSU Billings campus and the College of Technology, fees will increase about 2 percent each of the next two years.

Those fees were nearly $627 a semester at the main campus this past year and will be $641 this fall and $657 in 2012. At the COT, fees this year were $611 and will be nearly $624 and $638 the next two years respectively.

Tuition for full-time Montana students at MSU will go up about by $250 in each of the next two years. MSU tuition now is $2,418 for in-state students each semester. By 2013, tuition at MSU will be $2,667 per semester.

The regents’ vote was “very responsible and highly necessary to preserve the quality of the Montana University System,” said Montana State University President Waded Cruzado in a statement released Friday.

At the University of Montana, tuition rises from $1,983 to $2,187 by 2013. Nonresident tuition will also be increasing.

“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.

Regents also approved tuition increases for the state’s three community colleges. Tuition for local students this fall semester will be: $1,155 at Miles Community College in Miles City; $821 at Dawson Community College in Glendive; and $1,330 at Flathead Valley Community College.

Student leaders at the regents meeting pushed back, arguing that 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.

In other business, regents approved a request from MSU Billings for three projects:

$1.2 million to remodel part of the Student Union Building to make room for the Academic Support Center, make the building more accessible to students and do deferred maintenance work on the 56-year-old building.

$185,000 to put in energy-efficient lights and replace aging bleachers.

$700,000 to remodel the bookstore.

The projects will be paid for with a combination of general fund money, student fees and bookstore revenues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Mary Pickett at mpickett@billingsgazette.com or 657-1262.

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