MSU back to school

Montana State University students gather in front of Montana Hall in this 2018 Chronicle file photo. 

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The Montana Board of Regents unanimously agreed Thursday to spend $1.62 billion over the next year.

Of the total spending in the Montana University System, Montana State University in Bozeman will get $671 million for fiscal year 2020.

Regents and campus leaders spoke about financial goals for the University System at the Thursday meeting, and, in particular, how it can get more money from the state.

State money makes up about 47% of the University System’s budget for the next fiscal year. The national average for a state’s share is about 50%.

Clayton Christian, commissioner of higher education, said his office would like to move closer to that national average and get more money from the state, and the regents agreed.

“The only way you can move that share is through a collaborative effort between your statutory right to set tuition and the Legislature’s purview to appropriate funds,” Christian said.

The Montana Legislature voted to freeze college tuition last spring, which was a priority for Gov. Steve Bullock. The move meant the state spent $24 million to backfill tuition for in-state students, giving them a break from a tuition raise.

Clayton said the tuition freeze was a move in the right direction.

The University System provides for a number of tuition waivers, like for Native American students and honorably discharged veterans. A new waiver for members of the Montana National Guard will be added to the list.

The waiver covers 100% of tuition costs, and aims to recruit new soldiers and airmen while retaining current members. The proposal argued the waiver will help Montana compete with border states like Wyoming, North Dakota and Utah, which already offer waivers to National Guard members.

The waiver passed unanimously and many regents and campus leaders expressed support for the idea. Regent Casey Lozar agreed, but said the board needed to ensure the waiver wouldn’t financially impact one campus over another.

The Board of Regents will meet again at the end of November in Bozeman.

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