Tuition Freeze, Performance Standards Advance

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HELENA - A legislative subcommittee on Tuesday approved a $28 million budget increase for the Montana University System over the next two years to cover most of the costs of freezing tuition for in-state students over the same period.

The increase will be $13.2 million the first year and $15 million the second year of the two-year budget period beginning July 1.

In addition, the joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Education tied half of the increase in the second year - about $7.5 million in fiscal 2015 - to colleges and universities meeting certain performance standards, such as college completion Kates and reducing the length of time for students to obtain degrees. These standards will be developed by the University System.

"We think of higher education as an investment in Montana and its future," Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian said afterward. "We're extremely pleased that this committee came together and moved our funding forward."

All members of the subcommittee Tuesday signed an addendum to the memorandum of understanding signed by Gov. Steve Bullock and Christian on Feb. 1 to freeze tuition for in-state students for two years, provided the system received a certain increase in appropriations.

The addendum provides that half of the fiscal 2015 budget increase will be tied to performance standards developed by the colleges and universities.

The additional appropriation will cover 82 percent of the cost of freezing tuition. The remaining 18 percent will come from nonresident student tuition, according to Mick Robinson, deputy commissioner of higher education for fiscal affairs.

As part of the agreement, the Legislature also must appropriate sufficient money to cover any pay increases for University System employees. …