House Readies For "Dog Fight" Over Amendments Reducing Higher Ed Budget Increase


Legislators are expecting some blood to be left on the floor tomorrow over amendments to higher ed budgets that one legislator told me is sure to set off a “dog fight.”

What’s frustrating is that the fight in question is over what is really a modest reduction in spending growth on higher education.

At the beginning of the legislative session Governor Jack Dalrymple proposed a massive 38.7% increase in total appropriations to higher ed, based on his proposed revisions to higher ed funding which in, turn, is based on the number of students completing a credit hour:


There are some serious flaws with the governor’s model, not the least of which is the fact that a student can be counted as completing a credit hour with a “D” grade. Basing funding on completed credits with a bar set that law is an encouragement for grade inflation, I think, and the model also rewards remedial class credits with a 2.3 factor which is higher than college-level credits.

We should be raising standards in higher education, not rewarding mediocrity. But House members tell me they don’t have the votes to kill the governor’s funding model, so instead they’re reducing the per-completed credit appropriation.

Under the governor’s plan, they funded all universities in the system at the highest per-credit cost of all the universities in the tier. Case in point, the four-year universities will all be funded at the level of the university with the highest per-credit cost. That works out, in the governor’s recommendation, to $72.70 per credit in the bottom tier, $110.80 in the middle tier and $117.60 in the top tier.

But the Education subcommittee on appropriations, feeling that it would be better to fund the universities at the average credit cost (so as not to reward the universities for being inefficient), reduced those numbers to $67.00, $97.00 and $101.00 per credit, respectively.

All told, that’s a $47 million reduction from the Senate’s version of the higher ed budget (which, itself, was a roughly $4 million increase over the governor’s budget not counting a pending $55 million appropriation for the UND medical school which is in another bill).

Here’s the changes from the amendment to SB2003 (see the whole thing here):


The House amendments also take back control over tuition, mandating tuition caps, and transferred all of the university system’s lawyers and auditors to the central North Dakota University System office. These moves make sense. The universities clearly need more oversight in controlling tuition, and it’s hard to imagine any auditor being an effective in auditing a university he or she also works for. These were changes touted by Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, and they’re sound policy.

But what’s really driving angst over these amendments is the changes to funding levels.

By changing the per-credit funding levels, the House reduces the appropriation by roughly $47 million. Instead of Governor Dalrymple’s 38.7% increase we’d get a roughly 32% increase. The change is truly minuscule, as you can see:

graph (1)

Again, a very modest reduction in the rate of growth in higher ed spending, but it has angered both the governor’s office (who doesn’t want their funding model touched) and the higher ed community (which, of course, wants to maximize their budgets). Legislators tell me they’re getting hundreds of emails, notably from Fargo-area Chamber of Commerce members.

The amendments will be voted on in the House tomorrow, and the supporters of the amendment tell me they probably won’t pass.

It’s a pretty sad day when even a modest reduction in spending growth can’t pass in a chamber controlled by Republicans. It’s absolutely gob smacking that higher ed would be getting such a huge increase in funding after the last two years of fraud, incompetence and corruption in the system.

Higher ed officials have lied, cheated, abused taxpayer funds, produced shoddy academic results for students all while growing the cost of education to both students and taxpayers and from the legislature they’re pretty much going to get everything they want.