HELENA - Nonresident students at Montana State University will see a larger tuition hike this fall than their resident counterparts as the state Board of Regents axed a plan that would have raised tuition on both groups by $505 this fall.
MSU-Bozeman President Geoffrey Gamble supported the controversial flat-rate plan. He said the rising cost of out-of-state tuition at Bozeman will soon price the campus out of the regional market for nonresident students.
Nonresident students pay 140 percent of the cost of their education, which subsidizes the education of resident students. If out-of-state tuition rises too high, the number of nonresident students will decline and Montana students will lose their de facto subsidy.
Nonresident tuition in Bozeman is now slated to rise by $605 this fall, while resident tuition will rise $480. Nonresident tuition at Bozeman is expected to cost $13,773 this fall and $14,278 in fall 2006.
"We're still in a comfort range,” MSU-Bozeman President Geoffrey Gamble said at the regents meeting in Helena Friday. "We feel this will work.”
The state Board of Regents discussed tuition rates for the next two years, but won't formally adopt the rates until May. Student Regent Kala French of Bozeman said students are concerned about the differing tuition rates at the flagship campuses in Missoula and Bozeman.
"There are some questions for students,” French said. ”There is confusion and concern.”
While resident tuition will jump by $480 on the Bozeman campus this fall for an annual tuition bill of $4,159, resident tuition at the University of Montana is expected to jump $250 for an annual total of $3,470.
Gamble said the technical and scientific programs offered by MSU, such as architecture and engineering, generally cost more to run than liberal arts programs.
Tuition at the campuses of the Montana University System will rise an average 7.8 percent this fall and another 7.8 percent in fall 2006, unless the 2005 Legislature comes up with more funding for higher education.
The regents based the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 tuition rates on the state budget Gov. Brian Schweitzer proposed for the next two years. However, the Legislature is working on the state budget now and tuition rates could change if lawmakers alter Schweitzer's $304 million two-year spending plan for higher education.
"This depends an awful lot on what happens several blocks up the hill,” Regent Mark Semmens of Great Falls said in reference to the Legislature.
Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns has said half of the projected tuition increase can be attributed to employee raises over the next two years. The University System has to pay 62 percent - or $18.1 million - toward the pay increase of its state workers, Stearns said. Overall, the state contributes $152 million to the University System each year.
To appease other regent concerns, officials at Montana Tech in Butte slashed the projected nonresident tuition hike by more than half. Regents were concerned that the original projected tuition hike of 12 percent for nonresidents - which would have set out-of-state tuition at $17,000 in fall 2006 - would repel out of state students.
Campus leaders are now planning to raise nonresident tuition in Butte by 5 percent, for a projected total nonresident cost of $14,261 this fall and $14,974 in fall 2006.