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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Montana Lawmakers: Universities Need To Help Students With Educational Debt

University of Montana's Main Hall.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
University of Montana's Main Hall.

Montana State University and University of Montana students are on average tens of thousands of dollars in debt after four years in school. With that in mind, lawmakers are thinking about making financial education a bigger part of the university's responsibility. But the idea could violate the state constitution.

Kalispell Republican Sen. Keith Regier told lawmakers Wednesday that the state university system needs to better prepare students for the financial situation many will face after they graduate.

“It’s easy for them to wash their hands of student debt and leave that responsibility to the student. That isn’t fair to students in Montana.”

According to data provided by Sen. Regier during the hearing, MSU students after four years have on average nearly $28,000 in debt. U.M. students tend to have a bit more.

Helen Thigpen, the legal counsel for the university system, told lawmakers that there already is some financial literacy being taught to incoming freshmen and transfer students.

“We think it’s a very well-intended idea, but we’re very concerned about the impact of this bill on the regents’ authority to manage and control the university system.”

The Montana Constitution gives full power over the Montana university system to the Board of Regents.

The proposal heard by lawmakers Wednesday would require students to attend a seminar on the responsibility of debt, salary expectations for their chosen field of study and strategies for avoiding debt.

It would also mandate universities to regularly give students with loans updates on their current amount of debt, information on what monthly payments will look like and job prospect information.

It’s unclear when lawmakers will take an initial vote on the bill (SB 87).

Corin Cates-Carney is the news director at Montana Public Radio. He joined MTPR in 2015 and is a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism.
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