North Dakota Senate Votes For Higher Education Status Quo


The North Dakota Senate today had before it HCR3047 which was introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson. In it is original form as passed by the House this amendment would have replaced the Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education with a Director of the Department of Higher Education appointed to three-year terms by the governor. The governor could have removde the director at any time with cause (that’s important, currently the governor can’t remove his appointments to the SBHE), and the director would have administered the university within the scope of laws passed by the legislature (also important as the current structure of the university system pretty much puts it outside of the reach of the legislature in all policy areas except budgeting).

The Senate hog housed the resolution with an amendment moving to a full-time, three-member higher education board to replace the current larger board and the chancellor position. The board members for the new triumvirate would have been nominated and appointed in the same fashion current members are, but the constitutional independence of the university system would have been ended. This was done, carrier Senator David Hogue explained, to alleviate concerns that the original bill may have put the accreditation of the state’s universities at risk (a red herring; Hogue himself dismissed the idea later in floor debate).

Sadly, even this watered down version of reform for the governance of higher education couldn’t pass the Senate. It failed on a 23-24 vote. Here’s video of the floor debate:

Let’s be clear about the problems that face higher education in North Dakota.

First, the academic outcomes in the North Dakota University System are atrocious. Just over 1/5th of our four-year students actually graduate in four years. Just half of them are graduating in six years, and when Chancellor Hamid Shirvani attempted to communicate those numbers to the legislature clearly he came under fire from politicos loyal to the university presidents for “manipulating” data.

Our university system values quantity over quality, promoting policies that pack campuses full of students (using tens of millions in tuition waivers, among other policies, to accomplish it) while exercising very little control over academic outcomes.

Which brings me to my second point: The cost for this poor performance is accelerating both for the taxpayers and students. Even with some modest adjustments made to higher ed budgets in the House to slow down spending growth, the university system is getting a windfall from this legislature which is even larger than the windfalls they received in previous sessions (you really have to ask where all the additional money is going when you see that enrollment growth is relatively flat):


And all this state spending has done little to hold tuition in check. Tuition has roughly doubled at most of the state’s institutions over the last decade, with in-state students carrying the brunt of the increases:

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In short, we’re getting poor academic outcomes from a university system for which costs to both taxpayers and students are skyrocketing. And when the current State Board of Higher Education, along with the chancellor they hired, tries to act as something more than a rubber stamp for the status quo, the university presidents flex their political muscle and thwart the efforts.

Just so we’re clear, after two years in which the university system has been guilty of lying to the legislature, perpetrating diploma fraud on a massive scale and generally performing in a subpar manner the legislature is going to reward that system with a huge budget increase and no reform.