Print this Page

'Increase tuition'

Testimony of Erik Burke, MEA-MFT executive director, before Montana Board of Regents meeting May 28, 2009:


Much has been said about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) during this Regents' meeting. The title of the bill talks about recovery and reinvestment, and that's what I'd like to discuss today.


Starting last November, when we at MEA-MFT attended national conferences dedicated to responding to the economic crisis, we heard economist after economist talking about investing in higher education as an absolute necessity for recovery. Our economy cannot and will not recover without job retraining and a more skilled, better-prepared workforce. Higher education will be a likely first step for impacted Montana and families on their road to recovery.


Therefore, when ARRA passed, it included substantial dollars for higher education and K-12 education through state education stabilization accounts. These dollars were intended to assure that state investments in higher education could be maintained or expanded.


However, here in Montana, after working at the legislature to maintain present law budgets ("we" being all of us--you in this room and we as MEA-MFT lobbyists), we ultimately did not prevail.  We left the session with inadequate revenue for the system to maintain present law commitments.  I think we all know that.


By not funding present law budgets, we are compromising the very quality and access necessary to ensure economic recovery. To allow the system to fall further behind during a time we are trying to help our economy recover could not come at a worse time.


Our Montana University system is already one of the most efficient in the country.  We already do more with less.  How do we do it?


  • Less time for student advising -- more students for less faculty

  • Enhanced teaching workloads

  • Less instructional materials

  • Less library resources

  • Less laboratory resources

  • Less instructional technology

  • Less course offerings and therefore, less assurance that students can graduate on time

  • Less tenure-track faculty lines

  • More reliance on adjunct faculty -  who are now being asked to accept reductions in their assignments, pay, and benefits

  • Less competitive salaries (though this is not what I am going to emphasize today..)


I've been attending regent meetings for 13 years now, and I can tell you personally that we have been trying to do more with less during that entire time. As Regent Barrett stated earlier, there is no more 'low-hanging fruit' to cut.


As a result, our university system is stressed to a point where we are compromising quality and access for our students.  This is why students have testified for tuition increases. This is why you are hearing from faculty and staff (you'll hear from staff momentarily) that tuition increases are necessary. 


As we place all the emphasis on affordability, we need to realize that failing to invest in our system will have dramatic impacts on quality and access. 


For this reason, MEA-MFT is asking you to invest in the quality of the Montana University System by increasing tuition to assure that the system's present law budgets can be realized.


To do less will sacrifice the quality of the very system we need to provide economic recovery and reinvestment for Montanans.