With Fulbright, thinking the world from Missoula. Education, Public Policy and Taxes

The H. Humphrey 2018-2019 program brings together 17 scholars from 16 countries and 4 continents at the University of Montana; professionals from Africa from Senegal, Togo, Benin, Niger and Central Africa; likewise from Myanmar, Mongolia, Nepal and Iran in Asia, and one fellow from Georgia in Eurasia. From South America, scholars from Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia.

By Jorge Andrés Forero González – Colombia Fellow Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program

Missoula, a city with 72 thousand inhabitant (2016) (1) in the Northern United States, is home to the University of Montana. Its urban infrastructure makes it feel much bigger, as an intermediate size city such as Villavicencio or Tunja in Colombia, with more than 200 thousand inhabitants. The H. Humphrey program in the Long Term English modality is taught for four months by the International Center and the Global Engagement Office of the University, (2) combining the specialization of professional skills in English, leadership seminars and a varied cultural and academic exchange that includes visits to National Parks such as Yellowstone or Glacier.

The University of Montana, founded in the 19th century, is a  State / Public University (3), and has a beautiful campus with capacity for more than 13,000 undergraduate, masters and doctoral students. It is also exalting for having one of the best faculties of journalism in the United States. A striking feature of the University of Montana is the system of student residences/dorms in and around the campus. In addition, understanding that it’s a small University in the United States, have the infrastructure in sports venues with stadiums for more than 25,000  attendees. It has a buffet restaurant and varied programs of university welfare such as gyms, swimming pools, golf course, multiple student work options, theaters, and free bicycle programs for the academic community (4).

In the city, the Public Transportation System has 14 routes (5), as well as the 6 university system, is free. At night one of the University buses, the Gold Line, operates until 2:30 am on a route that connects the downtown with the University and the student residences. The University has 100% electric buses and the city is in the process of migrating to that system in response to Climate Change. This process is complemented by a broad system of bike paths  throughout the city that includes a toolbox on the streets with bike pumps.

In a pleasant conversation with Senator Dick Barrett I learned a little about how all of this is possible. Missoula is a city with a high degree of taxation, which  includes progressive taxes on incomes and property. In the words of Senator Barrett, taxes are returned to individual taxpayers via social investment, public education or community infrastructure. (6)

In addition, the taxation of big companies and corporations, not only in Missoula but in the entire U.S, is intended by law to contribute to social welfare by investing in hospitals, colleges and universities, libraries or public parks. If the economic activity is developed in a County (7) or determined territory, the infrastructure agreed with the communities in that place is especially robust. This is the case of counties with coal mines in Montana. It is as if in the Colombian Guajira to have the Cerrejón the biggest coal mine in the World, or a large wind farm, we would have to have  the infrastructure or quality of community life relative to the Silicon Valley in California.

Another surprising example for the development of public policies, one of the topics of work that is common to us as Fellows, is an interesting process developed in recent years where the city of Missoula bought their water rights from a private company for 88.6 million dollars. This process was possible because the citizens and the government of Missoula considered water services as a fundamental right and priority for the city. (8) This type of concerted actions with the private company in a process of expropriation of the monopoly right had the support of the citizens, applying the principle of American law (also in Colombian law) where the collective interest prevails over the private business.

As a result of the connection between the inhabitants and the public budget, Missoula has an active citizenship, which promotes, supervises and demands high quality services, access to art, subsidized health coverage processes (known as the Affordable Care Act) and diverse and wide spaces for development, cultural and sports activities. As foreigners, we can feel that  In Missoula exists a high level of life, and for example the internal migration of US citizens who have moved to this beautiful city, often from high income cities such as Seattle and Portland, generate problems such as the rise in housing prices (9).

Of course there must be many challenges for the city and its inhabitants and I can not give more than first impressions based on daily research and secondary sources. However, 2 months after arriving in Missoula, it is clear that with scholarships like Fulbright and examples of urban and regional planning in the United States, we have the possibility of contrasting imaginaries and asking more and better questions about the reality of our countries. The University of Montana, the free public transport in response to the issue of climate change and affordable transportation, and the development of public policies and investments concerted with the communities are some inspiring examples that illustrate how it is possible to execute and appropriate public resources for the quality of life and citizen welfare.

* Special thanks to the Lili Jane Clarke, Student of Magister of University of Montana and ex Fulbright Fellow for the suggest writing this article.   

** This is a first installment of a series of articles to be developed in the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program



  1. Data obtained from the official website of the City of Missoula, available at http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/; and of the national census in the United States with projections to 2016, available at: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/missoulacitymontana,MT/PST045216
  2.  Global Engagement Office, H. Humprey Program https://www.umt.edu/global-engagement/english-language-institute/about-us/humphrey-fellows/default.php
  3. The University is not 100% free to the students, although it has many scholarship and grant programs. According to Senator Barrett, if a young person from the State of Montana applies, he or she is received at the University.The students from other States have a higher rate of enrollment.
  4.  University of Montana http://www.umt.edu/about/
  5. Mountain Line. Website to understand more about the transportation system http://www.mountainline.com
  6. For more information Montana and Missoula tax system see Senator Interview Dick Barrett from Missoula, MT on Charter Local Edition Montana. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcUaNJWLgwk
  7.  In the United States, the County is a local level of government, which functions as a state or federal subdivision.
  8. Missoula Wins Right to Control Its Own Water in Victory Against Privatization” Available at: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/03/missoula-wins-right-control-its-own-water-victory -against-privatization
  9. “Economist: Missoula’s housing price increases outpace all but two American metro areas”. Available at: http://missoulian.com/news/local/economist-missoula-s-housing-price-increases-outpace-all-but-two/article_27f29bee-92f7-52ab-af85-9e2ffcacfbe4.html


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