The COVID 19 pandemic has dealt a one-two punch to the Montana University System over the last few months, with remote learning to close the spring semester, unsure enrollment numbers and the loss of college football revenues with the cancellation of the fall season.

Commissioner Clayton Christian stated plainly that the loss of football revenue, especially for the Missoula and Bozeman campuses has dealt a severe blow to their finances.

“Football is the main revenue generator and that helps support all of the athletic departments through the course of the year,” said Christian. “So the absence of it not only will have an effect on football, but it potentially could have an effect on all sports, and so we're working through that process now. I know that all the campuses and the two that you mentioned specifically are working through their philanthropic channels and are doing all they can do to try to minimize the impact as best we can.”

Christian acknowledged that the University of Montana has suffered a continuing drop of enrollment for the last several years, and that any drop now will reverberate through the school for years to come.

“U of M has had a downward trajectory for a while,” he said. As you all know, a smaller class that comes in this year will make the overall institution smaller for the next four years. That's just the nature of those incoming classes and the fact that it's a four year pipeline, not a one year event, however actually some of the numbers that we talked about earlier this week with President Bodnar, their enrollment may actually be down less than they were in the past.”

Funding for higher education comes from a variety of sources, in that tuition paid by students stays with the campus. Christian said the Montana Legislature has always stepped up to the plate with funding when more was needed.

But the bottom line is a contraction of state resources will also contract higher education and obviously, even though it's what I do every day, our opinion is that's not great for higher education, or great for the state.

“We've had a Legislature and a governor that have committed more resources than they have in the past each session,” he said. “That's been incredibly good for higher education in Montana in terms of keeping it affordable for students; something that's incredibly important to Montana's overall economy as we try to train skilled workers.”

Christian said when revenue drops for colleges and universities, as UM has experienced over the last decade, all belts have to be tightened.

“Reduced funding has led to consolidations such as closing of smaller campuses, and consolidation at the administrative level, something we're trying to do already, while keeping those different delivery points scattered around the state,” he said. “But the bottom line is a contraction of state resources will also contract higher education and obviously, even though it's what I do every day, our opinion is that's not great for higher education, or great for the state.”

Classes at the University of Montana are scheduled to begin August 19.

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