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UM President Announces $3 Million Budget Cut

The University of Montana’s academic budget will decrease by about $3 million heading into the next school year, UM President Sheila Stearns announced at UM on April 3, 2016.
Edward O'Brien
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The University of Montana’s academic budget will decrease by about $3 million heading into the next school year, UM President Sheila Stearns announced at UM on April 3, 2016.";

The University of Montana’s academic budget will decrease by about $3 million heading into the next school year. UM President Sheila Stearns made that announcement today. This year’s budget amounts to about $146 million."Those of you who have served on the budget committee have seen some budget scenarios that have dipped into the $130 million range," says Stearns. "We’re feeling pretty confident we can bring that into the $143(m) range to plan cautiously – but not recklessly. And to continue a conservative enrollment assumption, we have to consider reductions to get from $146 million to $143.5 million.”

UM Vice President of Administration and Finance, Mike Reid, points out there are still lots of unknowns,  but says that projected $3 million budget reduction for 2018 is:

"A reduction in our revenues through enrollment. That’s really the only reduction," Reid says. "We’ve been working with the state, and we should see state funds virtually identical to what they were in FY '17. The Commissioners [of Higher Education] are working very hard to make sure of that. So it’s our enrollment; the fewer students we have that’s driving that budget number right now."

That means that enticing existing students to complete their education at UM while simultaneously recruiting more students – thousands more – is job number one at the Missoula campus these days.

Enrollment now stands at roughly 11,600 students and is projected to remain at that level for at least another couple of years. That’s down about 3,500 students from 2009.

Those numbers prompted President Stearns to open her campus update today with a question.

"How many of you in this room consider that [student] recruiting and retention have something to do with your job or your responsibilities?” Stearns asks.

Almost everybody – some 200 people – immediately raised their hands.

"And for that, I thank you, because it has to do with the entire health of the University, what we do, and especially when it comes to retaining students," says Stearns.

Meanwhile, Stearns has named a group to recommend possible staff and program cutbacks to match the university’s budget reality. It will be made up of seven faculty members, four staffers, four student reps and three administrative members. The team’s work will be guided by an overarching strategic plan for UM.

Brock Tessman, a UM administrator, chairs the Strategic Plan Coordinating Council.

"Last Friday, we shared a preliminary draft copy of the strategic plan with President Stearns," Tessman says. "I imagine it’s just about figuring out the right time to share it more widely with the campus community."

Tessman said he suspects details of the strategic plan will be released soon.

Sheila Stearns, UM’s interim president, reports the university’s presidential search committee will review applications throughout this summer, and likely hold on-campus interviews sometime in the fall. Stearns closed her campus presentation by accentuating UM’s positives; encouraging employees to not ignore UM’s challenges and problems, but to simultaneously not obsess over the negatives.

"We are a wonderful, flagship public, regional university with a tremendously admired liberal arts core," Stearns says. "There are few universities that can match our combination of that with our setting with our people. We have to be proud of that and echo it over and over."

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