The state Board of Regents agreed Friday to take another look at a controversial policy that sets a limit on the number of credits a Montana student can earn before being charged nonresident tuition.
After listening to testimony from students from throughout the Montana University System, Pat Davison, the regents chairman from Billings, said the board would revisit a proposal to lower the credit cap to 144 credits by 2000.
"There's definitely enough interest in pursuing this matter and seeing what the facts tell us," Davison said. "It will be on our January agenda."
The regents, who met Thursday and Friday at the University of Montana, adopted a policy in 1996 that set a cap of 170 credits for Montana residents. If they exceed that number of credits, students would then be charged out-of-state tuition. When the policy was adopted, the board said the cap would be lowered to 144 credits by 2000.
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But student government leaders from units of the Montana University System say the 144-credit cap is much too low. They said the cap should remain at 170 credits because the lower limit does not provide enough opportunity for students to change their minds about majors or explore other class offerings.
"We urge the board to take a step back and look at it again," said Barrett Kaiser, the UM student body president. "We think it's definitely worth the time of the regents to look into this."
The policy will also have an adverse effect on students at two-year colleges of technology who want to pursue a college degree after obtaining an associate degree, students argued.
"It will be virtually impossible for a college of technology student … to obtain an associate degree and go on for a bachelor's degree without going over the credit cap," said Dawn Begnaud, a nursing student who serves as student body president at the Great Falls College of Technology.
The board was also presented with a resolution from UM's Faculty Senate that said the policy should be revised so that any cap allows students at least 50 additional credits on top of what is required to earn an undergraduate degree. Most UM degrees require at least 120 credits, but some programs set graduation limits up to 128 credits.
"The number of students reaching the cap will increase geometrically when it is lowered," said Bob Deaton, a UM social work professor who studied the issue on a Faculty Senate committee. "Nobody took into account that a really good student can have some exceptions that put them over the cap."