SBHE Member: Complaints About Legislative Funding Of Universities Are "Hogwash"

The last meeting of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education had to remove the issue of tuition hikes from their agenda after students complained that they hadn’t been given proper notice of the issue. At today’s meeting of the SBHE the issue was very much on the agenda, and watching the debate for anyone familiar with the facts of higher education finance in North Dakota was downright surreal.

For instance, Chancellor Larry Skogen claims that the universities are suffering from “funding shortages” which necessitate tuition hikes above what the legislature proposed in their budget:

For this academic year, about $3.5 million of the state’s share of the University System’s “cost to continue” was not funded by the state under the new funding model for higher education. Cost to continue programs include increased expenses for salary raises and benefits, utilities, inflation and student mental health services.

Now, the board will have a “precedent-setting question” when it decides how it will address state funding shortages with the new model, said Chancellor Larry Skogen.

“If the state does not appropriate the full cost of the state share, the decision is what do you do about that unfunded portion?” Skogen said.

But the legislature was actually very, very generous with the universities. Based on the agency budgets, the universities collectively saw a 12 percent increase in on-going appropriations and another half-billion of “one time” appropriations on top of that:

percentage increases

 

And it’s not like the legislature’s generosity is newly found. From Legislative Council’s budget trends document, appropriations to the university system have skyrocketed while enrollment has grown at a much more modest rate:

appropriations

 

But despite this clear data showing lavish spending increases for higher education, the university presidents are claiming that they’ll have to fire staff and cut academic programs if they don’t get a tuition increase above the legislative guidelines claiming that the legislature didn’t fund the $3.5 million cost of continuing. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a university system that just bailed out the REAC building boondoggle and is considering giving a sweetheart deal to Sanford Health on a nursing college in Bismarck. University presidents fly around in private airplanes, for crying out loud, but they can’t find $3.5 million in their budgets?

At least one member of the SBHE agrees.

“I think the arguments about terminating employees and losing certain services and programs for students, that’s a bunch of hogwash,” board member Grant Shaft said (see video above). “Because we just came out of a legislative session that historically funded all of our campuses. If anyone wants to say with a straight face that these campuses, after that type of funding, do not have the ability to find those sort of additional dollars I’ve got some swampland in Florida to sell you.”

(The look on board member Janice Hoffarth’s face during Shaft’s comments is priceless.)

Shaft also warned that if the universities are too aggressive with tuition increases, the legislature may take over tuition increases entirely:

 

 

Ultimately the SBHE approved Chancellor Skogen’s proposal for tuition increases which is column 1 in this table from today’s agenda:

tuitionhikes

Those are the maximum approved tuition increases, but many of the campuses have committed to lower increases.

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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