Testimony by President Cruzado to the Finance and Claims Senate Committee, March 19, 2011
Thank you for the opportunity to stand before this committee and represent our four campuses and three agencies that comprise Montana State University (MSU). Over the past year, MSU has worked diligently to address our core mission areas of access, affordability and transferability for students, providing a first-class education that is cost efficient and maintaining a quality workforce of outstanding faculty and staff to ensure the best learning environment possible.
The Montana University System is the most efficient one in the nation, with the lowest investment per student and the lowest salaries for our faculty. Every day, we look for additional ways to be responsible stewards of the public funds we receive. We are currently working on the MSU Integration Initiative, a project that aims to identify better administrative practices and streamlining opportunities among our four campuses. In Bozeman, a group of over twenty employees–faculty and staff working together–are providing me with guidance on how to build a more agile and responsive campus.
MSU is an integral and significant portion of Montana's economy. With student enrollments at an all time high, research expenditures of over $100 million annually and a presence in every county across the state through our Agricultural Research Centers and Extension offices, MSU is dedicated to serving all the citizens of the state.
A recent Economic Impact study that was released in January (copies were made available to legislators) found that University dollars spent on payroll and support services are not only an economic benefit to the communities in which our campuses are located, but also to the state economy. Higher incomes, productivity and spending of Montana residents who are MSU graduates are significant additions to the state's economy.
But I must be honest with you: if the current levels of proposed funding remain, I fear for the future and the quality of our programs. I am concerned that our ability to offer the courses and services our students need will be severely impaired. I fear this might lead to overcrowding in our classrooms and offices.
Due to the increase in student enrollment numbers, upon my arrival to MSU, I have found class sections with 140 students where there were used to be 30 in the past. Our students today need counseling, advising, tutoring, mentoring and a whole host of engaged services that are not limited to the classroom.
I checked our in-state student applications yesterday: they are already 2 percent above last year's levels, when we registered the biggest class in the history of MSU.I refuse to think that we will curtail opportunities to our citizens in Montana, at the hour when they need us the most. This is not what we want.
I worry about the possibility of not being able to offer some courses on a regular basis, therefore seriously compromising student success and the time to degree completion and, therefore, their contribution to society. This is not what we want.
I fear that present levels of funding will force us to revisit one of the areas of which I feel most proud during my first year at MSU: the revised levels of overhead charges to our agencies. At the beginning of this session, I bragged about how last year, in conversations with MAES and Extension, we slashed the prevailing 9.15 percent rates to 5.75--where they were 10 years ago--so that more dollars could be invested in our fields and in our communities. We don't want to walk away from that commitment with our agencies.
In summary, this afternoon I am saddened about the generalized sense of pessimism that I perceive in our campuses, when students, faculty, staff and our communities are not sure about the commitment that our public officials have for our university system. But I have learned that we are not made out of fear in Montana. Therefore, I still have hope.
I fully recognize that difficult budget decisions need to be made in light of today's state economy; however, a continued investment in higher education is not only cost effective, but also yields high returns in the future. With a commitment to provide education that empowers all Montanans, ongoing research that drives innovations and a presence in every county across the state, the campuses and agencies of MSU stand ready to advance the educational and economical health of Montana.
Thank you for your consideration of our budget requests and for your service to the state. I stand ready to answer any questions from the committee.