MISSOULA - Although campus officials are still discussing funding options for the next biennium, University of Montana students can expect the cost of their studies to rise again.
UM is looking to increase tuition by 7.75 percent for in-state students enrolled in both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 academic years.
$250 more per semester
For full-time students, that means about $250 more per semester. Adding to the burden, campus auxiliary programs such as the University Center, Curry Health Center and Campus Recreation are asking UM's student government to approve fee increases that collectively amount to about $20 per year.
Other UM programs will likely ask for more funding as well. And while the tally climbs, state legislators still need to make major funding decisions that could also affect the tuition status, leaving but one thing certain: Students will need more money to attend the state's flagship institutions in the next two years.
It's the only way to fulfill Gov. Brian Schweitzer's salary plan giving state employees their first significant pay raise in nearly four years, pay for skyrocketing utility costs and save a few dollars for maintenance and repairs, said Bob Duringer, UM's vice president for administration and finance.
At an open forum to discuss the fee increases, UM officials said they applaud Schweitzer's plan to give state employees a 3.5 percent pay raise or $1,005 (whichever is greater) in the first year of the biennium, and a 4 percent raise, or a $1,118 increase, in the second year.
"I'm a big fan of this pay plan,” said David Bell, director of UM's Curry Health Center. "I'm pleased to see it pays particular attention to people at the bottom of the pay scale.”
"University staff salaries have become critical to the retention and recruitment of staff in the last couple of years,” said Candy Holt, UC director. "And in the last couple of years, we have balanced our budgets on the backs of our staff, so I feel this plan is long overdue.”
However, UM's programs need a funding boost to cover the salary increases and inflation, Holt said. Unfortunately, it looks like it's the students who are being asked to provide the "boost,” said Gale Price, president of the Associated Students of the University of Montana.
Fee increases are a necessary evil, Holt said.
A quick review of the UC's budget shows Holt is staring down a projected deficit of $210,000 in 2006 and $301,694 in 2007. A hefty portion of the costs are attributable to the doubling of the building's insurance premium to $46,000 a year, and rising utility bills, which Holt expects to amount to $350,000 per year.
Higher rental fees
Student fee increases, which would raise an additional $106,280, would relieve the projected burden by half, and the UC would make up the difference by increasing rental fees it collects from business tenants.
"If we don't get the student fee increases, the UC will look different,” Holt said. "We might have to close it early, or close it on weekends. At this point, we don't know what we would do if we don't get the funding.”
The story is no different at the Curry Health Center, said Bell, or at UM's fitness hub, said Keith Glaes, director of Campus Recreation.
On Wednesday, UM's student leaders will consider the fee increase requests at ASUM's weekly meeting.