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Regents approve $1.8 billion budget for Montana University System

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Board of regents

MSU Billings Chancellor Stefani Gray Hicswa addresses the Montana Board of Regents on Wednesday in Billings.

The Montana Board of Regents approved a $1.8 billion operating budget for the Montana University System’s fiscal year 2023 at a meeting on Thursday.

The 10% overall increase was largely driven by increases in state appropriated funds, financial aid, inflation, expenditures as well as tuition revenue gains.

“A lot of that comes from a nonresident (student) increase and to be frank, a nonresident increase at Montana State University,” said Tyler Trevor, deputy commissioner for budget and planning. “What’s different this year than other years is the University of Montana is also increasing and so we’re seeing more of a compounded effect.”

Last fall, UM saw a 3% increase to its total enrollment from fall 2020, bringing it to 10,106 students. It was the first time overall enrollment grew at the university in a decade. Enrollment data for fall 2022 has not been released yet.

Overall enrollment at MSU this semester dipped slightly from fall 2021, according to reporting from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. However, the university is reporting its second largest freshman class. Its total enrollment this fall is 16,688 students.

The increase in tuition revenue is projected to total $21 million due to tuition increases and enrollment growth, causing 8% growth in the MUS’ current unrestricted budget.

Nonresident tuition revenue is projected to be up by 15% this fiscal year. However the MUS is anticipating a 3.5% decline in students attending college in Montana through the Western Undergraduate Exchange program.

The Western Undergraduate Exchange program, also known as WUE, is a regional tuition savings agreement administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Through the program, students can attend universities in participating states for 150% of the campuses’ resident rate.

Todd Buchanan wondered if the WUE tuition in Montana is meeting the cost to educate those students as the MUS does not receive full-time-equivalent financial aid from the state to support them.

“It is not the model to pursue to increase our net tuition revenue, however it’s a compact that we’re in and there’s obligations associated with it,” Trevor said, adding that the MUS “peaked a year ago” with WUE participation in Montana.

Shauna Lyons, director of accounting and budget for the MUS, noted that some campuses in Montana are capping WUE opportunities to mitigate that issue, but are still offering discounted tuition to continue to attract out-of-state students.

“The reason that the net tuition revenue is so high is that we’re doing such a great job of recruiting nonresident students in this state, so it’s a feather in our cap,” Trevor said.

Of the MUS’ total budget, UM will receive $137.2 million for its total operating budget, which is about a 3% increase from the previous year. MSU in Bozeman will operate on a $255.2 million budget, an increase of 11% from the previous year.

Honorary doctorate

Regents also voted to recognize Emma B. Lommasson’s impact on UM with a posthumous honorary doctorate of humane letters, which will be presented in December at fall commencement.

Lommasson spent 58 years at the university as a student, teacher, staff member and registrar. During her time at UM she met all but the first four of the university’s 19 presidents. She died in 2019 at age 107.

From Sand Coulee, Lommasson started at UM in 1929 and earned an undergraduate math degree with a minor in chemistry. She returned to the university and earned a master’s degree in education in 1939 and later began working at the university.

“Emma had a legendary career at the University of Montana, with an incredibly positive impact on generations of students,” UM President Seth Bodnar said. “There are so many stories about her grace and kindness, and her memory is an inspiration for us all. We couldn’t be more proud to present this icon with an honorary doctorate.”

The number of Americans filing for jobless benefits rose slightly last week with the Federal Reserve pushing hard to cool the economy and tamp down inflation.Applications for unemployment benefits for the week ending Sept. 17 rose by 5,000 to 213,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Last week's number was revised down by 5,000 to 208,000, the lowest figure since May.First-time applications generally reflect layoffs.The four-week average for claims, which evens out some of the weekly volatility, fell by 6,000 to 216,750.SEE MORE: Federal Reserve Attacks Inflation With Another Big Hike, Expects MoreOn Wednesday, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark short-term borrowing rate by another three-quarters of a point in an effort to bring down persistent, decades-high inflation. Though gas prices have steadily retreated since summer, prices for food and other essentials remain elevated enough that the Fed has indicated it will keep raising its benchmark interest rate until prices come back down to normal levels.Fed officials have pointed to the remarkably resilient U.S. labor market as added justification for raising rates five times this year, including three 75-basis point hikes in a row.The Feds move boosted its benchmark short-term rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, to a range of 3% to 3.25%, the highest level since early 2008. The officials also forecast that they will further raise their benchmark rate to roughly 4.4% by years end, a full point higher than they had envisioned as recently as June.Fed Chair Jerome Powell said that before Fed officials would consider halting their rate hikes, they want to be confident that inflation is retreating to their 2% target. He noted that the strength of the job market is fueling pay gains that are helping drive up inflation.He emphasized his belief that curbing inflation is vital to ensuring the long-term health of the job market.SEE MORE: U.S. Hiring Slows As Employers Add Just 315,000 Jobs In AugustEarlier this month, the Labor Department reported that employers added still-strong 315,000 jobs in August, though less than the average 487,000 a month over the past year. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7%, largely because hundreds of thousands of people returned to the job market. Some didnt find work right away, so the governments count of unemployed people rose.The U.S. economy has been a mixed bag this year, with economic growth declining in the first half of 2022. Investors and economist worry that the Fed's aggressive rate hikes could force companies to cut jobs and tip the economy into a recession.Online real estate companies RedFin and Compass recently announced job cuts as rising interest rates have cooled the housing market. The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales of existing homes fell again in August, the seventh straight monthly decline.Other high-profile layoffs announced in recent months include The Gap, Tesla, Netflix, Carvana and Coinbase.Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

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