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University Of Montana Faces $10 Million Revenue Shortfall By 2022

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar talks to reporters about UM's future and his plans for tackling the university's budget shortfall, January 31, 2018.
Eric Whitney

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar says the school needs to find $10 million in spending cuts and revenue increases to bring its budget into balance by 2022.

Bodnar, who’s been on the job since late December, gave reporters the hour-long presentation Wednesday on UM’s future that he’s also giving faculty, staff and students this week. He telling them he’s optimistic that the university can get to a sustainable budget in five years by growing revenue, including by increasing enrollment and retaining 10 percent more students through to graduation.

"We’re not going after $10 million in costs, we’re going after a majority [in] revenue, and growth in enrollment, but: retention. I mean, if we hit our retention goal, that’s $4 million right there," Bodnar says.

In 2018, the University is filling a $3.5 million shortfall in revenue by dipping into reserves. Bodnar says that he anticipates an additional $6.5 million in as-yet unfunded expenses between now and 2022, which include decreases in state funding and further investment in recruitment and retention.

"This isn’t a crisis. We are managing through this, but it’s not sustainable over the long run. So, what we’re working to lay out, I’m working with our vice president for administration and finance, our provost, our leaders across campus, is a four year plan."

That plan includes better marketing the value of a University of Montana education to people unfamiliar with its strengths, which Bodnar says include both great science and arts and humanities programs, as well as commitment to a broad, liberal arts education that students will need to succeed in an ever more complex future.

But Bodnar says the University also has some tough choices to make that could include putting some academic programs into what he calls "moratorium."

The university has been working on prioritizing which academic programs to discontinue, or potentially invest more in, for the better part of two years, getting recommendations from a special task force called APASP.

At his press briefing Wednesday, University President Bodnar said he’s re-constituting the University Planning Committe, or UPC, so he can get their input on the APASP recommendations. He wants the UPC to advise him on tough decisions about the university’s future by the end of this semester in 10 weeks. Bodnar declined to detail which programs he thinks could be discontinued or deserve more resources.

"No, I’m not going to do that right now, because I want to go through this process and have the UPC build upon the work and the recommendations of APASP, and I’m not going to speculate or name specific programs at this time because, one, APASP has made their recommendations, but I want the UPC to consider those recommendations and build upon that work, and then finalize the strategic plan that incorporates some of those recommendations, but through the context of a strategic plan. So, there may be programs that go into moratorium. There will be areas in which we’re going to identify for greater investment. I could go into my office and try to draw those up and come out with this grand plan myself, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to call on some of the best and brightest minds across this campus to make a recommendation on that point."

Bodnar says he’ll formally announce the re-constitution of the University Planning Committee next week.

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