- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - The office of the Commissioner of Higher Education is recommending tuition increases throughout much of the Montana University System to address an $18.8 million funding gap under a plan that was forwarded to the Montana Board of Regents.

The proposed tuition plan presented Thursday comes in the wake of the Montana Legislature slashing the budget of the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education by more than $12 million. Commissioner Clayton Christian warned lawmakers at the time that the cuts could mean tuition increases that would be “catastrophic” for some students and families.

The Legislature cut $4.15 million a year from the previous higher education budget, did not fund $13.3 million in inflationary costs or $300,000 of an employee pay increase. The system also expects a $1 million reduction in tuition revenue because of a 2 percent drop in in-state students offset slightly by a 1 percent increase in out-of-state students.

The 2018-2019 state budget is now before Gov. Steve Bullock for consideration.

The proposed tuition rates for the next two school years would end the practice at the University of Montana and three other schools of setting tuition rates lower for freshmen and sophomores than for juniors and seniors.

In the long run, the university system hopes to set identical tuition and fees for similar-sized schools, with the exception of Montana Tech, which has a specialized science and engineering curriculum, said Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner for communications and human resources. The states’ two-year schools also would eventually have identical tuition and fees, he said.

Christian said there had been criticism in the past when tuition recommendations were made public at the Board of Regents’ May meeting and voted on at that time. He said the office wanted to release the information early so students and families had some time before the vote to review the proposal and comment.

The plan calls for full-time, in-state students at both the University of Montana and Montana State to pay $7,047 in tuition and fees for the 2017-18 school year. UM freshmen and sophomores will see a 13 percent increase because they currently pay $461 less in tuition than upperclassmen. UM upperclassmen were paying $188 less than their counterparts at MSU. Tuition and fees at both schools would increase to $7,212 for the 2018-19 school year.

In-state underclassmen at Montana-Western in Dillon and Montana State-Northern in Havre would face some of the largest percentage increases - 28.4 percent at Western and 18.2 percent at Northern - because underclassmen had been paying less than juniors and seniors. Tuition would not increase for upperclassmen at either school under the proposal.

The tuition and fees do not include room and board, books or other specific class-related fees.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to set tuition for the next two school years during its May 25-26 meeting in Great Falls.

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