Montana's Universities Face More Budget Cuts During Special Session

Nov 13, 2017

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misstated how much funding could be cut for Montana's schools and universities. It was $4.5 million, not $45 million.

As the Montana legislature faces down a $227 million dollar budget shortfall, the state’s university system could see some steep budget cuts.

If the Montana legislature fails to pass a budget plan this week, the state’s eight university campuses could see their funding slashed by ten percent.

“It would challenge our ability to keep the doors open on some campuses,” says Kevin McRae, spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education. 

He says a ten percent cut in funding equals about $44 million over two years. To put it in perspective, he says that’s the total amount MSU-Billings receives from the state over the same period.

“And Billings is the third largest campus in the University system,” McRae says.

That’s why he’s hopeful the legislature will pass Governor Steve Bullock’s plan to only cut higher education by one percent, or $4.5 million.

“We believe we could achieve that and still maintain and excellent quality of education at all of the institutions that are currently in the system,” he says.

However, a one percent cut could still cause some academic programs to either shrink or merge with other departments.

“It might mean fewer employees a year from now or two years from now on campus than there are today,” he says.

Montana’s colleges and universities are currently dealing with a $19 million budget shortfall from the previous session. They’ve filled it by raising tuition rates, cutting staff positions and reviewing academic programs.

The Board of Regents is set to meet Thursday and Friday in Bozeman.