By Tim Leeds
The Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education approved revisions to Policy 220 Higher Education Centers effectively ending private schools' veto power over program offerings at public institutions of higher education.
The policy had required approval of any undergraduate programs that duplicate existing programs at a community college or independent college in its respective community by the affected college. The revisions to the policy include striking this section and removing the affected college's veto power.
Dr. Richard Crofts, commissioner of higher education, said when the
revisions came before the board last November his office tried to work with the private colleges as best they could. He said they tried to discuss the situation and reach agreement, but were unable to.
Crofts said that trying to protect colleges from competition doesn't fit into today's educational system.
"We operate in an environment that protects none of us," he said.
Crofts said they are not trying to take enrollment from the private
colleges. He said they must act in the best interests of the students of
the public university system, with a statewide perspective.
Regent Ed Jasmin said the passing of the revisions would hopefully not be the end of the issue. He said discussion, collaboration and cooperation should go on.
"This shouldn't be the end of the effort to reach good working conditions with the universities and the three private colleges," he said.
Dr. Matthew Quinn, president of Carroll College, spoke in defense of the policy as it stood. He said the original policy sought to maximize quality without duplication and to minimize harmful competition. He said the private colleges save the state money by educating students in these programs, who the state would have to subsidize tuition payments if they attended public institutions.
Dr. Frederick W. Gilliard, president of the University of Great Falls, said since both private and public institutions have limited resources, the regents need to decide how to make the wisest use of dollars. He said the private and public universities should collaborate, work together and across boundaries.
Crofts said saying the private colleges save the state money fails to focus on the student. He said they don't save the student any money.
Crofts said their goal is to provide educational opportunities to Montanans when and where they need it and at a price they can afford.
"This is a good thing for students and a good thing for the state of Montana," he said. "We will continue to do our best to be good partners and collaborate with the private colleges."