DATE: December 11, 2003

TO:     Board of Regents of Higher Education

FROM:    Sheila Stearns, Commissioner of Higher Education

SUBJECT:     Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Federal Funds - ITEM 121-101-C1203

At the November Board of Regent's meeting, Governor Martz announced that her administration would be allocating $2.7 million of the federal economic stimulus package to the Montana University System. Citing the importance of community colleges as points of access, Governor Martz designated $450,000 of the $2.7 million for the community colleges to be distributed on a per student basis. Governor Martz also asked that $250,000 of the $2.7 million be directed to The University of Montana to build upon their distance learning program and be directed to rural and isolated K-12 students. The Governor asked that the system, with collaboration from her office, develop a plan for the use of the remaining $2.0 million that helps students overcome financial barriers to access to higher education.

To receive and expend the federal funds the Board of Regents, as the approving authority, must approve a budget amendment for use of these federal funds. Accompanying this memorandum is a budget amendment establishing appropriation authority for the entire $2.7 million of federal funds allocated by the Governor. It is my recommendation that the $250,000 for distance learning be managed by the appropriate officers of The University of Montana.

In making her announcement, the Governor provided the Montana University System considerable latitude in developing plans for use of the funds that best help students meet the financial challenges surrounding access to higher education. In seeking recommendation for the use of these funds, I also provided each university latitude to make recommendations for their campuses that best fit the needs of their particular students. The accompanying budget amendment provides detail regarding the recommended use of the $2.0 million allocated by the Governor. I am recommending that $20,000 (1%) of the $2.0 million be retained in the student assistance budget of OCHE. These funds would then be available should there be unanticipated shortfalls in existing student assistance programs (work study, MHEG, Baker Grants, Perkins Loans, etc.) or be available to provide experiential learning opportunities for students during the next legislative session. I recommend the remaining $1,980,000 be allocated to the campuses to be used in the manner outlined in the budget amendment.

The main impetus for making this decision in December rather than waiting until the regular January meeting is to provide students with complete information as they evaluate their finances and make plans for spring semester. The campuses are hopeful that the new grants, loans, tuition relief, and work study opportunities provided by these funds will allow some students, who would otherwise have dropped out of college, to continue their education. In some ways, these federal funds have given us an opportunity to test various different approaches to providing financial aid and to weight the benefit to students and the impact on retention of students. Along those lines, I recommend that in the fall of 2004 each campus report back to the Board of Regents regarding the final use of the funds, the number of students served, and the effectiveness of the aid provided.