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University of Montana

The University of Montana campus.

As it builds a sustainable budget, the University of Montana is restoring $1 million of funding for admissions.

A few years ago, the administration eliminated those dollars, and the reason isn't clear or critical now, said Rosi Keller, vice president for finance and administration.

"We weren't in those rooms. We don't know what all the factors were," Keller said. "But what we do know is it was depleted, and we just want to get it back up because we want our enrollments to go back up."

Thursday, Keller shared a preview of a budget update UM will provide next week to the Montana Board of Regents. She offered the preliminary report of the status of the current 2018 fiscal year and upcoming 2019 fiscal year to the UM budget committee.

For the current fiscal year, UM is just $23,600 away from having all the tuition revenue it needs, Keller said. At the rate students are paying their bills, the campus also could reach its target in a matter of days.

"We still have challenges, but we're on the right trajectory," Keller said of the campus budget.

When it comes to the 2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1, UM needs to fill an estimated $10 million hole reported earlier to the campus by President Seth Bodnar. At the meeting, Keller shared the flagship's plans for doing so, and she also noted part of the hole includes a $300,000 decrease in income from the recurring 6-mill levy.

This year, Keller said UM is using a new model that builds a budget plan for the next four years rather than looking ahead just one year. She said it also includes the real costs of doing business, such as the $1 million for admissions, and it's based on realistic revenue projections tied to tuition estimates from the vice president of enrollment.

"We're building a much more conservative budget in terms of tuition," Keller said. "Hope is not a strategy."

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Earlier this year, UM President Bodnar outlined to the campus the $10 million budget hole, which includes a $3.5 million structural deficit. At the meeting Thursday, Keller shared the strategies UM plans to use to start closing the gap.

In the 2019 fiscal year, roughly $4 million will come from savings that are a result of voluntary faculty and staff buyouts, and that money will generally cover the structural deficit, Keller said.

UM also will make up the difference with some $5.7 million in one-time only funds, including from dollars it has accumulated in earned interest, she said. Additionally, the campus will delay some expenditures and use some small increases in miscellaneous revenue to fill the hole.

In the coming years, UM aims to slow its enrollment drop and then reverse it, and in doing so, generate the revenue it needs to permanently close the budget gap in the future. In 2020 and 2021, for instance, UM aims to bring in 200 new students each fiscal year, and it has a goal of increasing retention by 1 percent in 2020.

"The good news is every single day, things are changing, and they're changing to the good," Keller said.

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