The Implementation Environment
Over the past two decades, the portions of the general funds budget coming from the State and from tuition have effectively reversed. Where the State of Montana provided 69% of the education and general funds budget in 1990, it now supports only 31%. As a result, while the University of Montana spends far less than its peers to educate a student, tuition rates have risen significantly, more than doubling over the past ten years. This situation is all the more impacting because of the relatively low average salaries in the state (Montana ranks 40th in the nation in median household income). The high ratio of tuition to average income, combined with a comparatively small amount of available need-based financial aid creates a real affordability challenge in Montana.
The Current Situation
Montana and the University are not immune to the serious issues facing the national and global economies. From a State appropriation standpoint, the downturn in State revenues puts current budget commitments at risk, and makes State investment in quality and strategic initiatives difficult, at best. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to grow at record rates, as our efforts (in collaboration with the K-12 sector) to improve post-secondary education continuation rates combine with economic factors to bring ever greater numbers of Montanans to the campus. At the same time, the Partnering for Student Success initiative implemented in 2009 is already showing results, as higher retention rates increase enrollment even further, challenging our capacity in some programs, particularly in 2 year education and the general education core. These combined factors will require sustained extraordinary efforts to continue to maximize efficiency in the use of scarce resources, but provide the impetus to identify new and creative ways to facilitate accomplishment of mission-critical goals through new or enhanced revenue streams.
Our challenges are great. We work in an era and a locale characterized by:
- Increasing scarcity of resources;
- A growing need for public accountability and shared governance; and
- The dichotomy of tuition affordability and the view that higher education is a private benefit, rather than a public good.
Public policy makers rightly expect efficiency, and must be convinced of the value of the investment in Public Higher Education. Ensuring the adequacy and stewardship of resources is an ongoing and critical component of our mission. Therefore, The University of Montana implemented The Planning-Assessment Continuum, designed not only to facilitate desired outcomes, but to help clarify our vision and mission, and to communicate and demonstrate to internal and external stakeholders that we are making the best use of resources to do the right things for the right reasons.
The Planning-Assessment Continuum is both top down and bottom up. Executive leadership provides communication of mission and vision, clear and consistent processes, overarching mission-driven goals, equitably applied parameters, and rules enforcement. The structure uses a variety of mechanisms to ensure transparency and meaningful, broad-based input and participation, including advisory committees, implementation teams, task forces, focus groups, town hall discussions, and responsibility-centered budgeting. Please view the current cycle for more information.
While the input and responsibility to develop and implement individual unit plans is widely distributed, the Planning-Assessment Continuum ensures that the disparate activities are coordinated, and that managers are charged with the responsibility to ensure consistency in methodology and adherence to the University’s mission and planning principles.
The process is integrated, transparent, and highly visible. The scope of these activities includes, but is not limited to
- Institutional Goals and Priorities
- Fiscal Resources
- Human Resources
- Capital Resources, including Debt Financing and Gift Funds
- Buildings (classrooms, labs, office, special use, event, and support space),
- Information Technology (instruction and research technology, computers, networks, enterprise systems, and linkage to external and shared data sources)
All budgets and assessment processes are linked to the University’s Strategic Plan.
These activities are kept visible and transparent through ongoing and diligent efforts at effective communication (including public access to decision-making and resource allocation processes) to ensure that priority setting and budget decisions are guided by a broad-based understanding and appreciation of the University and its mission, within the context of public higher education in Montana.