HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday that he understands university officials may have to raise tuition, but he is hoping it is not necessary, as the Board of Regents gathers in Kalispell to make a decision.
Schweitzer, a Democrat, said any increase could have been avoided if lawmakers had endorsed his proposal that sent more state money to public colleges. Republican lawmakers countered during legislative discussions on the matter that higher education should face some of the same cuts in state funding as other areas of government.
Regents are scheduled to make a decision on the issue Friday morning. Commissioner of Higher Education Sheila Stearns said Wednesday that she has not yet made a formal recommendation.
The Missoulian reported Wednesday that the University of Montana president is recommending a 9 percent tuition increase over two years for the state's universities. That would cost resident students several hundred dollars a year.
Schweitzer said the schools rely heavily on state funding, tuition and donations to make ends meet.
"If one of or more of those sources doesn't keep par then something has to give someplace else," Schweitzer said. "I assumed when the Legislature didn't approve the budget we proposed there would be pressure on higher education. It may manifest itself in some small tuition increases for university students."
University officials have been able to mostly keep tuition steady in recent years. Schweitzer pointed out other states were being forced to accept double-digit tuition increases during that time, making the Montana schools an even better deal.
But Schweitzer said that regents may have no choice but to now increase tuition more.
"I think it is difficult," Schweitzer said "We would acknowledge it would be difficult not to raise tuition, but we are always hopeful they will find a way."