As the session moves forward, we will continue to share the message that, ultimately, the MUS and state policymakers want the same things.

When the Legislature is in session, Helena can seem far removed from the rest of the state and the day-to-day activities in university labs, libraries, classrooms, arts venues, practice rooms, and sports arenas. In Helena, we strive to bridge that gap and share our MUS story with state lawmakers. By spotlighting our programs and initiatives, we remind lawmakers why state support through funding and in implementing policies that move the MUS forward is critical to the well-being of Montana's citizens and the state's economy.

In our interactions with legislative budget and policy committees this session, we continue to emphasize the worth of postsecondary education for students and their families and for the state and its economy. And we attribute much of the system's successes to partnerships we enjoy and continue to build among faculty, staff, students, alum, and state policymakers.

Board of Regents Chair Rogers and I emphasized these themes in our opening remarks to the Section E Appropriations Subcommittee last month. Over six days in mid-January, the Subcommittee held hearings on the MUS budget as proposed in Governor Gianforte's Executive Budget. It is a lengthy process during which all aspects of the system's operations are analyzed, system funding is meticulously scrutinized, and the public is invited to comment. These hearings offer an excellent opportunity for us to showcase the campuses, system-wide programs, and our goals and initiatives. It is also an opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions with Subcommittee members on how we envision moving forward with a common purpose.

Shared policy goals have been central to the MUS's relationship with interim and session legislative committees since 2002, when the MUS and the 57th Legislature's Postsecondary Education Policy and Budget Committee developed a set of shared policy goals and accountability measures. And while the goals and accountability measures evolve with successive legislatures, a changing economy, and a dynamic academic landscape, they stand as a testament to the notion that the MUS and the Legislature can and should work together to realize a shared purpose. Accordingly, the Subcommittee dedicated the last day of its MUS hearing schedule to a work session with the MUS on the 2023 Shared Policy Goals and Accountability Measures and they will remain part of the discussion throughout the interim session after the Legislature adjourns.

My discussion with the Subcommittee on its opening day underscored the well-documented value of postsecondary education. Questions are being raised in Montana and elsewhere about whether education after high school is worth the investment, and I emphatically told the Subcommittee, with the receipts to back me up, that a college education continues to be one of the best and most important investments an individual can make in their future. It is also one of the best investments the state can make to drive the economy and improve lives and communities.

We recognize that one size does not fit all and that many people who enter the workforce after high school are successful. But, as I told the Subcommittee, a college graduate will earn an average of 84% more than a high school graduate. As we also know, college graduates are more likely to weather economic downturns and less likely to be unemployed. And the benefits are not limited to four-year and graduate degree holders. Individuals having completed any postsecondary degree are likely to earn more, and that prosperity flows from the person to the person's family, their community, and the state.

As I noted in my remarks to the Subcommittee, the MUS is doing everything possible to build programs and systems to generate the best return on investment for students, families, and the state. We remain focused on ensuring that the dollars coming into the system are used to provide quality, diverse degree programs, healthy and safe learning environments, and opportunities for innovation that reflect the rapidly developing world economy and expanding technological universe.

As the session moves forward, we will continue to share the message that, ultimately, the MUS and state policymakers want the same things:

  • A healthy and growing economy;
  • Access to superior education and profitable employment opportunities for Montanans; and
  • Thriving, healthy communities.

We can achieve those goals together, and I intend to share the story of a strong and united MUS throughout the session.