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AS I SEE IT

Posted 5/18/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

No one is going to argue that the North Dakota Board of Higher Education can do what it wants when it comes to providing funds to the state’s colleges and universities. The North Dakota Legislature has granted that board the power to set the budgets, along with the tuition that students pay to attend our institutions of higher learning.
But even given that authority, the Board of Higher Education may very well have crossed the line this past week in granting North Dakota State University an 8.8 percent tuition increase.
During this past legislative session, the North Dakota Legislature gave the higher education system a budget of $655.8 million, which amounted to a nice eight percent increase, to dole out to the schools. And in their infinite wisdom, the Legislature recognized that it was important for North Dakota to hold the line on tuition increases at its colleges and universities, so they made sure that of that $655.8 million, $15.2 million was provided to hold tuition increases to roughly a 2.5 percent increase.
While other North Dakota colleges and universities probably shuddered at the mere thought of holding tuition increases to just 2.5 percent, they obviously bought into the logic that the state’s lawmakers and budget-keepers had been good to them this legislative session.
But apparently NDSU did not buy into the concept. Or at least not for very long.
And apparently neither did the Board of Higher Education.
That is apparent because just weeks after the Legislature wrapped up their business for another two years, NDSU was standing in front of the Board of Higher Education saying that unless they received permission to up their tuition rates by 8.8 percent it was going to cause irreparable harm to the university and force the school to cut core programs because of a pattern of state funding that has not kept pace with the university’s growth.
Immediately following the Board of Higher Education’s decision to grant NDSU’s tuition increase, several members of the North Dakota Legislature were quick to say that the board’s decision was excessive and that it eroded the trust of legislators.
And those three members of the Board of Higher Education who opposed the increase on a 5-3 vote, along with the North Dakota Legislature and the general public, have reason to be concerned with the board’s decision.
Obviously, NDSU must have made a very compelling case for its need for a greater tuition increase than every other college or university in the state. But if that institution’s finances were in such poor condition that they were going to have to cut core programs without a big tuition increase, the question has to be asked, “why wasn’t that message carried to the Legislature?” If it was and it became part of the Legislature’s decision to provide $15.2 million to hold tuition increases and to reduce funding inequities between the state’s colleges and universities, then the Board of Higher Education needs to be held accountable for its actions.