House District 65 Candidates: Kathleen Williams (D), Nick Mahan (R)

1) To what extent will you combat financial barriers (i.e. rising tuition) that students face in their pursuit of higher education?

WILLIAMS: My career has benefitted from affordable, accessible and quality public education from two of our land grant universities, and it’s one of my highest priorities to ensure those opportunities continue. The Legislature appropriates funds, but it’s the Board of Regents that manages the specifics of the use of those funds and whether funds are sufficient to avoid a tuition increase. I fought hard in the 2011 Legislative Session to restore $30 million to the University System budget, which would have helped alleviate the need to raise tuition, and am strongly encouraging a package with the University System this session that will hold tuition in check. I continue to work with students and others to evaluate how we can help the regents and administrators increase efficiencies, reduce overlap between educational systems and reduce student debt upon graduation. I have helped students engage in federal dialogue on education funding, and advocated for financial literacy opportunities, financial assistance and transparent tools for families to assess and plan for the costs of college.

MAHAN: To the extent that no taxes will be raised on the citizens of Montana.

2) Montana State University just completed a long-term strategic plan which includes calls for raising enrollment by 2,000, increasing faculty pay to 80 percent of the national average, priority budgeting and enhancing the student experience. What steps can Montana’s lawmakers take to assist in the pursuit of MSU’s goals?

WILLIAMS: As Legislators, we can work to: – be knowledgeable about the strategic plan and its metrics, and work as a partner to evaluate progress and ensure the goals continue to be relevant to student and state needs and opportunities; – ensure legislative policy and funding initiatives are consistent with and contribute to MSU reaching its goals; – help bring community and/or statewide stakeholder perspectives to bear in helping MSU creatively meet its goals; – engage students and others in policy issues and decision-making; and – advocate the value higher education brings to our economy, culture and state. I’m honored to have championed legislation that benefited university programs, to have brought legislators and students together to discuss issues and needs, and to be serving as a member of a statewide university advisory committee.

MAHAN: In a larger scope, make Montana a state that companies want to invest in and that will help every school and college expand.

3) Are Montana’s universities spending student and public money efficiently?

WILLIAMS: I hope so; efficient use of tax dollars and family tuition expenditures must always be a priority. I appreciate the MSU Strategic Plan prioritizing responsible management of resources, and that the Regents are planning to take some significant looks at budgeting, program alignment and strategic initiatives. Having worked with outcome-based budgeting for many years, I hope I can serve as a resource as these efforts move forward. Meanwhile, efforts to implement efficiency suggestions from accreditation reviews, inviting and responding to efficiency suggestions, merging redundant systems and services and researching higher education budget efficiency metrics could be useful. Many such efforts are already underway.

MAHAN: As best as they can. The union obligation might be an issue to look at to increase efficiency.