A nonprofit group based in Washington, DC that advocates college affordability and the reduction of student debt has released report cards for each state.
As a part of the Student Impact Project, the report cards are created so that students can compare how states measure up in education spending, tuition, and other budgetary items.
The report cards assign a grade to the level of financial burden that is placed on students and their families, in addition to state spending on higher education. The Student Impact Project hopes that the grades will influence legislators and give more power to student activists, reports Gail Schontzler for The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
"Decades of state budget disinvestment from public higher education caused tuition hikes and skyrocketing student debt," according to the Young Invincibles' Student Impact Project website.
Montana was given a D- for their spending on higher education by the group Young Invincibles. In what ended up being a mixed report card, the state did receive an A- for the low tuition fees charged by its two and four-year colleges.
Annual tuition in Montana averages out at $6,211, well below the national average. Over the last five year,s that tuition has risen just 4%, while tuition across the country has gone up an average of 37%.
The state was given credit for having made zero cuts to their higher education budget during the Great Recession despite other states across the country cutting their budgets by an average of 23%.
Montana did not fare so well in its grade for per pupil spending ($4,294), on which it received an F. On a national level, the average amount spent per student is $7,028. In addition, Montana saw a failing grade for its state financial aid, which averaged around $136 per student, compared to the national average of $510.
According to the report card, all of this means that Montana students see an average debt load of $27,475.
"Although Montana isn't investing as much as other states in higher education, it has been spending more in recent years, signaling slow improvement," the report said. "Low tuition and low burden on families is not enough – the state needs to invest more in students in Montana."
The state's higher education system has announced plans to release its own "accountability" report to the 2015 Legislature this January, showing the progress the state's colleges are making, particularly through higher graduation rates.
"We're quite enthusiastic about the case we can make," Clay Christian, commissioner of higher education, said during the regents' telephone conference meeting. "The University System is delivering on its promises."
In addition, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau has announced that her focus will be raising the legal dropout age to 18 and providing funding for schools for 19 year-old students.
Students in Montana are currently able to drop out at age 16, with 16 and 17 year-olds accounting for 65% of all dropouts in 2013.