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Guest opinion: Rising tuition pushing college out of reach for Montanans

Guest opinion: Rising tuition pushing college out of reach for Montanans

If you are a college student or family member of one, I am sure that you have responded with the same concern as I have to the projected tuition increases in recent headlines. It has caused many students and their families to look at our budgets and try to figure out how to fit a few more hours of work into the schedule in order to make ends meet.

As you are attempting to figure out how you will meet the additional costs associated with tuition and fee increases, I hope you'll take a few minutes to join in the efforts to convince legislators that increases of the magnitude being discussed are not acceptable. Montanans are being priced out of a college education. This is the vehicle by which we can make better lives for ourselves and a better economy for our state.

It has been a tough legislative session for higher education, especially in light of the K-12 funding and quality situation. That said, the Legislature also deserves the thanks of students for what they have done thus far in the areas of appropriations and long-range building.

Paying for pay plan

There is, however, still one unresolved-unfunded mandate being passed from the Legislature to students. The result is a significant portion of the tuition increase: the state pay plan. The University System follows the pay plan for its employees, but unlike those other agencies, the University System gets a far lower percentage of state funding for that plan. Prior to 1991, the state picked up the whole tab, but that has been phased out each year since. Currently, students and their families pay 62 percent of the pay plan, while the state picks up just 38 percent.

While it would be nice to restore pay plan funding to the 1991 levels, it simply is not likely. However, it is not too much to ask that the state at least split the bill, paying closer to 50 percent while passing on the other half to students. An increase of even a few percentage points in state contributions each year of the biennium would result in huge amounts of tuition relief for the students of Montana.

Call your legislator

This week the debate will rage on House Bill 2, which contains the appropriations for the University System. Your legislators have the power to make changes, and in doing so to reduce costs for all Montana students. Give them a call, drop an e-mail, or stop by and see them in Helena to ask that something be done to make the pay plan funding more fair for all involved.

Kala French is the student regent on the Montana Board of Regents and a student at Montana State University in Bozeman.

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