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UM Prepares For Budget Shortfall

MISSOULA - University of Montana administrators are telling all departments to prepare to cut spending between two to eight percent.

School officials are preparing for the worst case scenario as they try to shape next year's budget.

"We want to do a lot of 'what if's?'" said UM's Vice President of Interim Communications, Peggy Kuhr. "If we have a worst case scenario, we want to see that getting to a better and better case scenario."

Two-third's of the university's general fund of almost $160 million is based on tuition and fees, while one-third comes from state appropriations. Now, the university is facing a shortfall of $16 million after an enrollment drop last year.

"I think what we look at with enrollment, is with fewer students on campus, that means fewer students needing beds in resident halls, that means having fewer demand for classes, so when enrollment goes down we need to adjust," Kuhr said.

Professor Mehrdad Kia of UM's Department of History, said he's already seeing classes take a hit.

"This is more alarming, because we hear some numbers earlier, right after spring break, and now we're hearing another set of numbers, and I think there's total sense of confusion," Kia said.

Kia said when he returned from spring break, he, like many other professors, was surprised to find courses, like language classes, zeroed out in areas where student demand isn't as high.

"This was not done in consultation with faculty and students, and the result will be devastating for students and faculty," Kia said.

He added these cuts are not going to help the enrollment issue.

"When you take these programs, it creates hole in your curriculum," Kia said. "When there's holes in curriculum, students aren't interested in coming back."

Kuhr said budget projections have already improved from last month.

"What we're going to see with budget shortfall, is a better picture than what we were anticipating," she said.

Kuhr said there's still a lot of uncertainty, but the university is focused on making minimal cuts to education.

School administrators say they expect to have a budget plan sealed by mid-May.

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