College tuition hike ‘hogwash’, ND higher ed board member says

By Rob Port | Watchdog.org North Dakota Bureau

TUITION HIKE: North Dakota Board of Higher Education member Janice Hoffarth listens as fellow board member Grant Shaft argues for lower tuition caps.

BISMARCK, N.D. – The North Dakota Board of Higher Education has cleared the way for tuition increases at the state’s 11 public institutions.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen, speaking on behalf of college and university presidents, said the increases were necessary because the Legislature didn’t fully fund a new formula for university system appropriations last year, leaving a $3.5 million shortfall.

Not everyone on the board is buying that.

“I think the arguments about terminating employees and losing certain services and programs for students, that’s a bunch of hogwash,” board member Grant Shaft said. “Because we just came out of a legislative session that historically funded all of our campuses. If anyone wants to say with a straight face that these campuses, after that type of funding, do not have the ability to find those sort of additional dollars, I’ve got some swampland in Florida to sell you.”

The Legislature approved more than $650 million in spending for the 11 campuses and the University of North Dakota Medical School, plus an additional $572.5 million in one-time spending mostly for building projects.

Spending has grown much faster than the number of students attending state institutions. According to Legislative Council, from the 2003-05 to the 2011-13 biennium, higher education appropriations have increased by 16.2 percent per biennium while enrollment has increased by 2.1 percent per biennium.

The reaction from students was mixed. Devin Hoffarth, the student representative on the board, voted for the higher caps but a member of the student government at the University of North Dakota said the tuition issue needs more scrutiny.

John Mitzel, the government affairs commissioner at UND, said the tuition vote “didn’t go as badly as it could have,” but objected to Skogen saying the board should “trust the (university) presidents.” Mitzel said the board needs more time to review the campus budgets before tuition increases are approved.

During the meeting, Shaft said the part-time board doesn’t have enough time to delve into the “minutiae” of campus policies.

“Maybe that demonstrates one of the problems with a part time board,” Mitzel said in response.

The tuition caps, which universities cannot exceed without permission from the board, are:

  • 4.23 percent at North Dakota State
  • 4.9 percent at the University of North Dakota
  • 4.16 percent at Valley City State University
  • 5.09 percent at Minot State University
  • 3.57 percent at Mayville State University
  • 5.08 percent at Dickinson State University
  • 2.42 percent at Dakota College
  • 3.28 percent at the North Dakota State College of Science
  • 7.1 percent at Williston State College
  • 2.13 percent at Lake Region State College
  • 3.81 percent at Bismarck State College

Some universities have promised to keep tuition increases below the cap, but others, such as NDSU, say they need the full increase to offset what they describe as past under funding.

Contact Rob Port at rport@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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