Gov. Steve Bullock and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian agreed Friday to freeze tuition if the legislative stars align.
During a visit to the University of Montana, Bullock and Christian promised to stop increasing tuition costs for all Montana University System schools if the Legislature passes House Bill 2. HB-2, also known as the General Appropriations and Revenue Estimate Act, would provide $34 million to cover a tuition freeze.
The agreement is not binding, but ASUM Legislative Lobbyist Asa Hohman described the pact as “a ceremonial way of saying they’re both committed to (the tuition freeze).”
This week, HB-2 is making its way through various subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee.
While Bullock said he thinks the freeze is likely, he encouraged students to participate in the process by contacting their legislators.
“It’s important for you to add the exclamation point,” Bullock said in his speech to students at the University Center Theater.
Bullock said HB-2 would also provide $2 million for dual-credit programs for high school students attending two-year colleges, $2 million for educational services for veterans and $5 million for universal enrollment, which would allow enrolled students to take courses at any MUS school.
He added that 40 percent of Montanans possess some form of higher education degree, and he hopes to see that number increase to 60 percent. Bullock said the dual credit program is one way to accomplish that goal.
Earlier in the afternoon, the governor toured Missoula College to promote its expansion and House Bill 14. HB-14, or the Jobs and Opportunity by Building Schools bill, would raise $29 million in bonds for the project.
“You all do an incredible job in shaping these kids,” Bullock said to a group of Missoula College professors he met on the tour. “But we have an obligation to provide you with adequate facilities.”
However, Bullock did not take a position on the controversial issue of the location of the potential Missoula College expansion.
“Teaching students who are paying tuition in a trailer is unacceptable,” Bullock said, referring to the eight trailers used as classrooms at the college. Applause met this comment.
The former College of Technology became affiliated with UM in 1994 and was re-named Missoula College in May 2012. The facilities originally intended to accommodate only 700 students now serve almost 3,000.
Hohman, the ASUM lobbyist, was once among those students.
After graduating high school with a 1.75 GPA, Hohman, 26, said he took several years off from school before enrolling at Missoula College and finding success. He made the Dean’s List his first semester and has since been an active student.
“I really had the support I needed there to find my academic stride,” Hohman said.