As another semester begins amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Montana Board of Regents approved additional COVID-19 funding for MUS (Montana University System) campuses. During a virtual meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7, board members approved the allocation of federal and state COVID-19 funding, bringing $42 million to the university system.
MSU will receive the most funding of any university campus, with $16 million allocated. Of this $16 million, $74,085 must be used directly for Federal Pell Grant students learning exclusively online, and approximately $5 million must be allocated for emergency student grants. The remaining $10 million may be used for technology upgrades regarding remote learning and institutional aid. The University of Montana will be given the second highest amount of funding with $12.5 million and the third highest amount will go to MSU Billings with $4 million.
Since the last approved spending plan in September, MUS was awarded coronavirus relief funds from the CARES Act, which was provided by the federal government and allocated at the state level by former Gov. Steve Bullock. Since universities only had until Dec. 31 to spend this money, $10 million was spent upgrading key card access on-campus buildings, $350,000 was designated for mental health support and $800,000 was dedicated to COVID-19 testing on campuses.
Amid the news of vaccines being distributed this spring, there will be updated guidelines for MUS campuses. Changes include an increase in mental health resources and added support for students who become physically ill. Similar to the fall semester, MSU is continuing to test symptomatic individuals and is now also providing COVID-19 tests to asymptomatic students who live on campus.
Brock Tessman, head of the Healthy Montana University System task force, said, “As much as we would like to be able to test every student, our resources are limited, particularly our human staffing resources. Targeting students living in residence halls is the best use of these tests.”
Asymptomatic testing for students will be available for the first two weeks of classes and will be located at the Student Testing Center by Bobcat Stadium. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has authorized the use of rapid test kits across campuses, providing accurate results in 15 to 30 minutes.
“We’re incredibly grateful to our university medical staff for taking this on,” MSU President Waded Cruzado said. “They have had our student’s best interests in their hearts through this whole pandemic, and they continue to amaze me with their commitment.” For more information on how funding is being distributed throughout the Montana University System, visit https://www.mus.edu/board/meetings/2021/january/192-104-R0121.pdf.