Last week, University of Montana officials sent an email to faculty and staff asking about when individuals planned to retire, in an effort to cut the personnel budget through buyouts and attrition.

The University has been attempting to lower costs after enrollment has dropped considerably since 2010. Spokesperson Paula Short said the questionnaire is an information-gathering tool.

"The university is continuing to pursue an early-retirement incentive program," Short said. "We did send a survey out last week to employees, just to gather a little bit of information about the benefits, or challenges or barriers would be for those who might be interested in early retirement."

Short said personnel who could qualify for the early retirement package must meet certain parameters.

"The must have a minimum of five years of service to the University of Montana," Short continued. "They also needed to have a combined number of years of service and age equivalent to 75, in other words, if you're 50 years old and have 25 years of service, then you would be getting the email. The HR people told me they were casting a wide net. It's really just a matter of us exploring options and gathering more data to support the consideration of a program."

Short said the Board of Regents has expressly directed the university to lower its percentage of personnel costs.

"The President mentioned in her State of the University address that we spend a very high amount on our personnel at better than 80 percent, it's more like 81 percent now for salaries and benefits and that's probably not a sustainable model moving forward, and so at this point all options are on the table," she said. "How do we bring that number down? There's natural attrition where people retire every year or they seek other opportunities, so this survey if just one of the tools at our disposal."

The issue of falling enrollment forced the departure of Royce Engstrom last December, with the search currently underway for a new president. The university is now being led by interim President Sheila Stearns.

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