Montana’s new governor introduced himself to a new class of University of Montana students Friday in Missoula, where he pledged with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education to cap tuition and keep college affordable.
Gov. Steve Bullock and Clay Christian, commissioner of higher education, signed the pledge before roughly 50 university students from across the state. Together, they vowed to work with the Montana Legislature to keep college affordable.
“I’m a big believer that if we’re going to create real economic opportunity and create great jobs, we need to invest in education,” Bullock said. “It’s what makes a difference in creating jobs in this state, and it’s a great equalizer.”
Bullock arrived at UM fresh off his State of the State address, where he asked the Legislature to freeze tuition across the Montana University System.
When tuition increases, Bullock said, college becomes unaffordable for working families. That, he added, hinders job growth and the development of innovation and new worker skills.
“It becomes an empty promise if college is unaffordable for families in Montana,” Bullock said. “To be able to stay in Montana and invest in Montana, we can’t make it where college is beyond the reach of Montana families.”
Christian joined Bullock in making the pledge. He said 48,000 students are enrolled across the Montana University System, including 15,000 at UM.
“We all know what a challenge it is to keep higher education affordable,” Christian said. “It’s a battle other states aren’t doing too well on. I’m proud that this board has fought back national trends and has seen the lowest increase in the last six years of anyone in the country.”
Christian said work remains before the tuition cap becomes a reality. He called college affordability his top priority and vowed to work with Bullock in urging the 2013 Legislature to move in the same direction.
“We’ll work hard together to move that forward,” Christian said. “This document is important. It spells out a plan the Governor’s Office and my office have worked on to lay out the possibility that a tuition freeze becomes a reality.”
Bullock told students the Legislature has the power to cap tuition. He said he has provided the funding through his budget to freeze tuition over the next two years.
The Legislature must pass the budget. Not acting, he said, would be akin to a tax increase on working families with students going through school.
“I’m committed to making sure that we walk out of the Legislature and this 90-day session with an agreement that we’re not going to put more tax and more tuition increases on students at universities across the state,” Bullock said. “My budget proposes to freeze tuition.”
Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, email@example.com or @martinkidston.