Chancellor Shirvani: "Trust Us" Because We Haven't Screwed Anything Up In The Past Six Months


North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani was on Chris Berg’s show last night and got asked some tough questions about higher ed costs in North Dakota. Berg even had on hand a recent North Dakota State graduate who is more than $60,000 in debt.

The thrust of Berg’s questioning for Shirvani? How can you justify the cost of higher ed in North Dakota to students with huge student loan debt while university officials rake in big budget increases and huge salaries?

Awkwardness ensued:

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At one point Berg asks Shirvani for two examples of how he’s going to cut costs in the university system to keep tuition and fees down. Shirvani’s answer? The university system wants am existing legislative cap on fee increases made permanent. “That’s how serious we are,” says Shivani.

Supporting the extension of legislation that already isn’t doing much to keep costs down for students isn’t exactly evidence of “seriousness” when it comes to cost controls in this observer’s opinion.

Shirvani also says he has a plan to increase 4-year graduation rates at NDSU by 15%. He says that graduating students faster will lower their debt levels. That’s true, but then increasing NDSU’s four-year graduation rate would take the school up to about 37%, meaning 63% of students in four-year degree programs still wouldn’t be graduating in four years.

Pardon me if I’m not willing to throw Shrivani a parade for hitting such a low-set goal.

The NDSU graduate’s comments were interesting. On one hand, I don’t want to excuse students for choosing to obligate themselves to debt. Nobody put a gun to their head. They knew, or should have known, the deal going in. That being said, these students are being sold on the idea that a college degree is a golden ticket to a better sort of life. Increasingly, it isn’t, and it’s hard not to feel some empathy for students who commit themselves to a lifetime worth of debt only to find that their degree might not have been worth it.

And it’s got to be hard to swallow that pill when university administrators like Shirvani are pulling down six-figure salaries and getting budget increases like those in the chart below.

Shirvani suggests the solution for struggling students is more state aid for tuition. And of course a higher ed administrator would say that. That aid ultimately ends up in the university’s coffers, doesn’t it?

We don’t need to figure out how to give more money to these people, who are already swimming in it. We need to figure out how to get them to do their jobs more efficiently, and with less pomp and circumstance.