North Dakota's Universities Are A "Good Deal" Only In The Context Of A Lot Of Bad Deals


I had to chuckle at this Grand Forks Herald article taking aim at critics of tuition growth at North Dakota’s two largest universities, the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.

“Stats show N.D., Minnesota schools still a good deal,” reads the headline. But a “good deal” is a relative term.

Let’s look at the numbers:

Among four-year institutions around the nation, UND, North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota, Crookston, are considered low-cost universities with medium graduation rates.

It costs a UND student an average of $11,952 a year, including tuition and room and board. On average, 54.3 percent of students graduate within six years with a bachelor’s degree.

For NDSU it’s $13,284 and 53.7 percent.

The folks at NDSU and UND don’t like to talk much about their four-year graduation rates. In fact Chancellor Hamid Shirvani was accused of “manipulating data” for refusing to allow those universities to couch their abysmal four-year graduations in self-serving national comparisons.

But I digress. At NDSU the four-year graduation rate is 22%. At NDSU it’s 23%. This means that most students either don’t graduate at all, or graduate in a longer period of time.

Which brings us back to the “good deal” thing. Who in their right mind thinks it’s a good year to get a four-year degree in six years paying $11,000 – $13,000 per year for the opportunity? That might be a “good deal” in the context of bloated tuition and fees at other universities, but I’d note that those universities also have much higher four-year graduation rates.

The average four-year graduation rate for North Dakota’s four-year institutions is 31.6%, compared to a national average of 52.5%. Having to go two extra years to get your four-year degree is not a “good deal.”

And keep in mind, that’s just what the students pay. At the University of North Dakota, every graduate (or “completion”) costs tax payers an average of $97,631 at UND, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, and $66,464 at NDSU.

North Dakota’s universities have a horrendous academic track record, in the aggregate. Unfortunately, infighting between the reform-minded Chancellor Hamid Shirvani and entrenched university presidents has obscured these problems during the legislative session.