ND Senate Kills Tuition Bill, Blames Student Debt On Students

There’s an old saw, usually attributed erroneously to Albert Einstein, about insanity being defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Whoever said it, there’s a grain of truth to it. Especially when it comes to higher education in North Dakota.

There’s little disagreement over the idea that tuition both in North Dakota and nationally has grown excessively. This chart from Professor Mark Perry illustrates the point:

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It’s also clear that tuition hikes in North Dakota have been excessive. Our state has lavished money on higher education, even as enrollment growth has remained largely flat:

higheredenrollment

Yet, even as spending on higher education has more than doubled in just a few budget cycles, tuition has gone through the roof:

higheredtuition

This data, combined with the never-ending stream of law-breaking and bureaucratic malfeasance emanating from the North Dakota University System, would seem to make a compelling case for the idea that control over tuition needs to be taken away from the universities. Tuition hikes clearly aren’t tied to actual needs, and given how often the universities have used it as a political weapon against the Legislature, they simply can’t be trusted with it any more.

The House agreed. Last month they passed HB1303 which takes control of tuition away from the universities and leaves it up to the Legislature. Sadly, that bill came before the state Senate today and was defeated.

He also suggested that students are to blame for student loan debt. While there’s truth in that – I’m sure we all know students who have been something less than responsible with how they’ve spent their student loan dollars – it simply does not explain the explosion in tuition costs both in North Dakota and nationally.

Just two Senators spoke on the legislation. Bill carrier Kyle Davison (R-Fargo) suggested that the motivation for the bill was not the reams of data indicating that the universities are abusing students with tuition hikes but rather the one incident where North Dakota State defied a legislative cap on tuition with an 8.8 percent hike approved by the State Board of Higher Education shortly after the Legislature convened in 2011. I don’t think that was a fair characterization of the motivations of this legislation.

He also suggested that students are to blame for student loan debt. While there’s truth in that – I’m sure we all know students who have been something less than responsible with how they’ve spent their student loan dollars – it simply does not explain the explosion in tuition costs both in North Dakota and nationally.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider also spoke against the bill. He pushed back against Davison finger pointing at students over the tuition problem, but called HB1303 a “flawed” fix to the problem. Which made no sense as Schneider has been outspoken in favor of a Legislative free on tuition.

Frankly, in the eyes of this observer, it seems that a lot of these lawmakers are aware that the problem with tuition lays squarely on the shoulders of higher education administrators, but they’re afraid to acknowledge that with action. So what we get with more of the same. A lot of bluster from the politicians about run-away higher education costs and little in the way of action toward fixing the problem.

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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