After a decade of consistent growth, enrollment at Missoula College — formerly known as the College of Technology — dropped by over 300 students this year, and the budget could be slashed by as much as $428,000.
Barry Good, the Dean of Missoula College, said he and fellow UM officials are exploring several options to deal with the cuts. He said primary options include eliminating sections of classes, increasing the number of students in each section, increasing the number of sections each faculty member teaches, and — the answer nobody wants to hear — reducing faculty.
“If it’s warranted, we may have to ask an adjunct faculty member, perhaps, not to teach for a semester or whatever it is,” Good said. “We’re trying to limit that as much as we can, but that’s one avenue we can take.”
Good said the cuts could be less than 8-10 percent, but that he is “preparing for the worst.” He added that there isn’t a set timetable for when decisions have to be made, and the budget could change even after class schedules are due in early April.
Despite the budget headache, Good said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Missoula College will receive funding for a new facility. The state Board of Regents has listed the $29 million request as their top priority of the 2013 Legislative session, and Good said the enrollment drop and budget cuts are not a death sentence. “I don’t think it’s going to have a negative impact with getting our facility,” Good said. “Even though our enrollment did go down some, we’re still overcrowded and we still are not providing our students with the facilities they need for education in the 21st century.”
Bill Johnston, UM’s lobbyist in Helena, echoed those sentiments.
“We did have some questions about the enrollment being slightly down at the Missoula College, but the point that I make is: In 2002 we had roughly 800 students, and a little more than 10 years later we have 2,400 in a facility built for 700 or 800,” Johnston said. “I don’t think we’ll ever see that enrollment go back to where it was 15 or 20 years ago, and certainly not back to ‘60s and 70s when that building was new.”
The funding for Missoula College, as well as several other University system building projects, was recently moved from House Bill 14 — a bonding bill — to House Bill 5 — a “cash” bill. Now instead of having to borrow the money through bonds, the state would be able to fund the new facility with money from the general fund.
“The money is already there,” said Representative Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, who is sponsoring the bill. “A lot of that bill just has to do with the authority to spend money that the state already has.”
Ankney said another advantage of moving the Missoula College funding is that cash bills only need a simple majority to pass, while bonding bills require two-thirds approval.
HB5 passed the third reading in the House of Representatives on Thursday by a 75-25 vote. Now it will move to the Senate, and the fate of the new Missoula College facility will be decided by April 27 when the Legislative session ends.