GREAT FALLS — The Board of Regents adopted a new, two-year schedule for tuition and fee increases for the 26,000 students in the state's University System Thursday and then warned university leaders that the way campus business is done will change.
The regents criticized the state for keeping its funding for higher education flat over the next two years and expressed dismay over the 12.25 percent boost in tuition that they approved for Montana State University.
Tuition at the University of Montana will go up 8.75 percent in each of the next two years, and tuition at the state's smaller campuses across Montana also will rise, with MSU-Billings leading that group at 12 percent.
"This state is in a lot of trouble," said Regent John Mercer of Polson, who was a four-term speaker of the Montana House. "If support (for higher education) is frozen, this state will sink."
Aaron Flint, student body president at the University of Montana, said student lobbyists urged lawmakers to increase higher education funding during this year's legislative session.
The Legislature refused, leaving the University of Montana with a $21 million shortfall over the next two years and Montana State University with a $24 million shortfall.
Over the next two years, students attending Montana's public colleges and universities will pay an additional $39 million in tuition and even more in fees.
The only student objection to the tuition increases came from the Missoula campus, where Flint said students didn't want to use 1 percent of the 8.75 percent tuition boost to hire tenured faculty.
Instead, the students wanted to drop the tuition increase to 7.75 percent.
UM leaders said 1 percent of the 8.75 percent tuition increase would be dedicated to hiring tenured — as opposed to adjunct or temporary — faculty to help students with their writing. The board ultimately rejected Flint's suggestion.
Regents said they accepted the budget recommended by the UM and MSU presidents because, as Mercer said, "we don't have any other choice to keep the system going."
However, Mercer urged university leaders to present the board with more budget options in the future. He said Montana needs to use higher education as an engine for economic development.
"We cannot accept that the idea that (the state economy) won't grow," Mercer said. "If we don't grow, we're dead."
Regent Mark Semmens of Great Falls said he wants MSU to share more of the money that out-of-state students generate there with the campus' smaller, affiliate colleges.
UM is transferring $4.6 million from its Missoula campus to its smaller campuses in Helena, Butte and Dillon while MSU is moving $1.6 million from its flagship university to its affiliate campuses in Havre, Great Falls and Billings.
UM is also cutting $7.1 million from its budget while MSU is slashing $3.1 million.