This week North Dakota’s universities will testify before the House Education Committee, chaired by outspoken higher education critic Rep. Bob Skarphol (R-Tioga). The civil war between the university presidents and Chancellor Hamid Shirvani has dominated the discussion over higher ed this legislative session, but looking at the information Rep. Skarphol asked the university presidents to compile in advance of this committee hearing it promises to be a barn burner.
Perhaps it push the problems of the university system to the forefront of state debate, rather than the rebellion against Chancellor Shirvani and his reforms.
Because the universities do have major problems. One bit of information Rep. Skarphol is asking of the universities is information about tuition waivers, which has been a major bone of contention in the past. I actually obtained some of this information about tuition waivers through an open records request last week (see documents below), and can preview some of what legislators will be learning tomorrow.
For instance, the total amount of tuition waived by the state’s universities has grown 337% since 2000:
In the 2011-2012 school year, there was $33,511,200 in tuition waived and 38,896 full time equivalent students in the university system (according to the Legislative Council). That works out to $861.55 in tuition waivers per full-time student.
The total number of students has grown at slower but still robust 176% (tuition has grown faster due to the inflation in the cost of tuition in general):
To be fair, some tuition waivers are actually mandated by state law, and most of you readers probably won’t find them all that objectionable. National Guard members, veterans and police/firefighters are eligible for waivers. Yet, the waivers by statute make up a pretty small slice of the pie. In the 2000-2001 school year, those waivers amounted to just $925,206 (13% of the total). By the 2011-2012 school year, those waivers actually declined by 25% to just $688,318, just 2% of the total tuition dollars waived.
Meanwhile, discretionary waivers have soared. Waivers to international students increased by 864%. Cultural diversity waivers increased by 249%. All while the universities have, year after year, plead poverty to the legislature.
Nor are tuition waivers the only major area of discretionary expense. What often gets overlooked is stipends paid to some students to study at the state’s universities. That’s right, many students receive what amounts to a salary to study in North Dakota, at least at three of the universities.
According to a document also obtained from the NDUS via open records request, in fiscal year 2011 NDSU spent $18.6 million on stipends for 1,014 students at an average of $18,374 per student. UND spent $13.2 million on 852 students for an average of $15,569 per student. Minot State University spent $101,000 on 57 students for an average of $1,776 per student.
Now, the universities would no doubt argue that these stipends (as well as a healthy chunk of the tuition waivers) when to grad assistants who are vital to the research these universities do. Maybe that’s right, but the side effect of waiving tuition for those students and paying them stipends is to inflate the cost of the universities to North Dakota taxpayers and North Dakota students.
The universities were founded to serve the state of North Dakota by providing low-cost and efficient education. In the 2011-2012 school year, there was $33,511,200 in tuition waived and$ 31,997,099 paid out in stipends. There were also 38,896 full time equivalent students in the university system (according to the Legislative Council). That works out to $1,684.19 in tuition waivers and stipends per full-time student.
That’s a heavy, heavy cost to do something that is not the primary mission of the university system.