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The University of Montana campus

The University of Montana campus in Missoula is pictured in this file photo.

The University of Montana has planned for a smaller student body, budget and faculty in the 2020 Fiscal Year.

On Wednesday, the Montana University System published its campuses' FY 2020 operating budgets, which the Montana Board of Regents will vote on when it meets in Butte next week.

Undergraduate enrollment at UM’s flagship Missoula campus has dropped 33.5% since 2011, and it stood at 9,407 last spring. During Fiscal Year 2019, which ended June 30, UM had undergraduate enrollment of 9,247 full-time equivalent students.

Its 2020 projection is 7% lower, with 8,603 full-time equivalent students. Of those, 6,220 are undergraduates, 1,695 are graduates and 688 come to UM from other institutions through the Western Undergraduate Exchange network.

In the past, UM has made conservative enrollment estimates in its budget planning, and it remains to be seen how well its projections line up with reality. Fall semester enrollment won’t be final until after the university conducts its official headcount, or census, on the 15th day of instruction.

UM President Seth Bodnar recently voiced confidence that this year’s freshman class would be larger than last year’s. If successively larger freshman classes keep entering UM, they would eventually lift enrollment.

But for this fiscal year, UM is counting on another drop. In an emailed statement, UM budget director Stacey Eve explained that “budgeted enrollment headcount projections begin with the previous year’s actual results, reduced by estimates for graduation, retention and persistence, and increased by an estimate based upon historical yield related to new student applications and acceptances.”

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According to the posted budget documents, UM's total budget will be down from $146.2 million in 2019 to $144.3 million in the 2020 Fiscal Year. By comparison, Montana State University-Bozeman's budget is set to grow from $240.4 million to $254.5 million.

However, the state’s other flagship projects a modest dip in enrollment. MSU forecasts that its total student population will drop from 15,255 to 15,199 after several years of steady growth. 

At UM, expenditures on instruction will drop 6% from last fiscal year, from $71.3 million to $67.3 million. Research and public service both show modest drops, while academic support, student services and operations and maintenance all increase between 4% and 10% over last year.

The number of contract faculty dropped from 576 last fiscal year to 561 this year. Faculty and instructional offerings have been a highly visible piece of UM’s recent effort to cut costs, with contract faculty at 646 four years ago.

Last fall, UM implemented slimmed-down budget targets for its various colleges to meet by 2021, and several responded by eliminating, consolidating or suspending enrollment in degree programs. Also last year, 22 faculty members voluntarily left in order to help UM’s colleges meet budget targets while avoiding retrenchment, or forced departures of tenured faculty.

Details on reductions for 2020 were not immediately available. However, Vice President for Operations and Finance Paul Lasiter previously told the Missoulian that next year’s budget would contain no cuts beyond those already implemented.

The Board of Regents will take up budgets and other items during their meeting scheduled for Sept. 11 and 12 in Butte. For more information, and to learn how to watch remotely, visit https://mus.edu/board/.

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