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Students Demand 'Courage, Not Cuts' At Higher Ed Funding Rally

The University of Montana campus.
Josh Burnham
/
Montana Public Radio
The University of Montana.

University of Montana student Hunter Losing’s message to lawmakers was simple- 

“We cannot balance the budget on the backs of students. We need to tell them we need courage, not cuts,” he said.

“Courage. Not cuts.”

That refrain was repeated by all the speakers who addressed the 100-plus people who attended UM’s rally against higher-ed budget cuts. It was one of eight such rallies held at public universities across the state at noon on Tuesday.

Lawmakers are facing a shortfall in state revenue. To help balance the budget, a legislative subcommittee this winter voted to slash over $23 million from the office of higher education’s proposed 2018/2019 budget.

Lawmakers have since restored roughly half that amount.

That’s cold comfort to UM student body president Sam Forstag, who wonders about the $11 million still missing from the university system’s budget.

“Eleven-million-dollars? If you were to balance that entirely on the backs of students, not even counting shortfalls we might have elsewhere, that could be an 11 percent tuition increase. That’s $700 to $800 for students here at the university,” Forstag said.

And that, Forstag predicts, would have a devastating impact on enrollment numbers. Low enrollment is an ongoing problem at UM. School officials expect the student population to remain at roughly 11-thousand for the next two years or so. And even if that pans out, UM will need fewer faculty and staff.

Again, UM student body leader, Sam Forstag-

“I can tell you that there are a lot of students out there that are one blown head gasket away from not being able to enroll full time in classes next year. If we want our student to keep finishing in four years and get to classes and the financial aid desk with enough staff members there – and being able to afford it – the last thing we should do right now is slash funding for higher education in our state,” he said.

UM junior Jemison Naive agrees. Naive says those legislative budget cuts must be fully restored.

“There are professors I haven’t had yet that could be gone by the time my next semester rolls around here. I don’t want to see them gone and I don’t want to pay more money than I have to for my tuition,” he said.

Restoring full funding to Montana’s higher-ed system may be a tough sell in the legislature.

Lawmakers Tuesday rejected a request to add $20 million to the Commissioner of Higher Education’s proposed budget over the next two years. The Republican majority insists they will not go above the $11 million that’s already been restored to the commissioner’s budget in the House.

But there’s still just over a month before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, and that means there’s still plenty of time for legislative horse trading over what finally ends up in the budget bill.

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