How much money does the University of Montana have?
They try to hide this from you. For instance, they don’t publish their budget on their website anymore.
Instead you get a 404 error, telling you that page has been permanently removed.
I’ll have to dig into this a bit more to find those numbers.
But what I’m really interested in are the endowments, specifically all the rich out-of-staters that are giving to UM so they can get fancy new buildings built that have their name on them.
For this we look to the University of Montana Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that was created in 1950 to “inspire philanthropic support to enhance excellence and opportunity at the University of Montana.”
The UM Foundation gives us two reports: a 9-page annual report for 2019 that has a bunch of feel-good, ‘press-release-style’ numbers, and then the 26-page financial report that came out in June 2020.
The Foundation took in $56 million in 2019 from over 13,000 donors. 51% of those donors were alumni members, while 35% were just friends, 6% were corporations, 6% were parents, and 2% were other foundations or just “other.”
Most of the people gave money to support academic and institutional programs. In fact, the lion’s share went to this - $41 million. Another $14 million went to scholarships and $700,000 went to facilities.
With all those donations last year, the Foundation now has $215 million on hand, spread over 1,084 different investment funds. In fact, 84% of all the Foundation’s money is tied up in the investment market.
That’s all we get from the smaller report. The larger report gives us more information, mainly because it was an audit conducted by a firm from Minneapolis.
For instance, this report tells us that the Foundation actually has $300 million, or $85 million more than the smaller report had us believe.
Why the discrepancy?
We’re also told that the Foundation only took in $27.4 million during the 2019-20 fiscal year, not $56 million like the smaller report claims. This is because of accounting practices that don’t let you claim that money until certain conditions are met.
The Foundation transferred nearly $19 million to the university this year, and almost $23 million in 2019. These transfers are governed by an operating agreement. One stipulation of that agreement is that UM pays the Foundation $550,000 each year for “services provided.” The university also charges the Foundation $236,000 a year in rent for office space on campus, an agreement that runs to 2036.
So in effect, UM pays the Foundation $210,000 a year so the Foundation will keep finding those rich, out-of-state donors to keep it living the lifestyle it’s become accustomed to.
This is a great deal for the university, as they don’t have to beg the legislature for money every two years...though they still do.
Just a few weeks ago, Governor Bullock put out his draft budget for the next two years. He included $37 million in new funding for the Montana University System, which comes out to $18.5 million spread across the 16 different campuses.
If that was divided equally, UM would get $1.1 million.
That’s not enough to keep the university living the lifestyle it’s become accustomed to, and they know it.
That’s why they have the Foundation.
And UM isn’t really doing that well. In Bozeman, MSU took in $167 million in grants compared to the $56 million that UM took in over the same period.
Whether it’s $167 million in Bozeman or $56 million in Missoula, it begs the question…’How much money do taxpayers actually have to give to our colleges?’
Because it sure seems like they’re doing pretty well on their own.
How much do the universities get, anyways?
Well, back in 2015 Montana had total state spending of $6.3 billion and 10.4% of that was earmarked for higher education, meaning we spend around $655 million a year on our university system.
And then on top of that, the two flagship schools are capable of raising over $200 million more on their own, most of which they just sit on.
Well, that’s not true, as we’ve seen - they keep it in the market, and each year pull about $500,000 via their nonprofit Foundations.
I think Montana taxpayers and students are getting a raw deal here.
Each year we increase the money we give to the university system...and for what? So some old professors can keep making huge salaries and benefits packages?
They’re not even in the classroom!
Most classes are remote learning, and the university still charges the exact same tuition as if they were in-person!
The sad part is that students and parents actually put up with this.
The legislature needs to introduce a bill to cut university pay until they can get back into the classroom. On the same note, public school teacher pay needs to be reduced by 60%.
If kids are only allowed to go to school 40% of the time (2 days a week) then why are we paying full-time salaries?
At the same time, the legislature needs to cut funding to the two flagship schools in the Montana University System.
They don’t need the money.
Oh, they think they do, but we know for a fact that if things ever get problematic for UM or MSU, the rich, out-of-state donors will step in.
- We saw it happen in 2016, when the Alice Lee Lund Charitable Trust gave UM $5 million to build their new auditorium.
- That same year, UM pulled in $24 million for a new forestry building from private donors that’d made their fortune in the forestry industry.
- For over a year now, UM has had plans in place to demolish an old house at the ‘entrance’ to the university, paving the way for the $6 million Montana Museum of Art and Culture. All the money will come from private donations.
Those are just a few examples from the past few years.
It’s also clear from recent reporting that the 7-year-long Campaign Montana, which raised $450 million from 34,000 different donors, is separate from the Foundation.
Where do we find the donors on that one, and where they’re from, and why they seem so interested in revamping the look of the UM campus?
And what exactly is the long-term plan for Aber Hall, the 11-floor student dorm room that’s now so empty of students that it’s being converted into office space for $1.3 million?
What is the previous office space in the Lomasson Center going to be used for? So far it sounds like a revamped dining area. Does that really need to cost $24 million?
Here in Missoula, UM has over $500 million it can play around with. With that kind of cash on hand, their token lip-service about supporting local businesses through their "Heart of the Grizzly" campaign is quite insulting.
No, I don’t think UM or MSU needs any more funding from the legislature this session, none at all.
We’re heading into the darkest winter we’ve seen in generations, and the worst economic depression in nearly 100 years.
Does the state really have the money to keep spending for the university system’s pet projects...especially when so many rich, out-of-state donors are lined up to give and give and give...when UM won't even release the names of who these donors are?
Why does our university system act so entitled to so much money when so many in our state are suffering under job losses, school closures, no childcare, and increasingly, no money to pay the bills or the rent?
How much will they keep asking for?
How much more can Montana taxpayers give?