State Board Of Higher Education Wants Another Look At Tuition Increases

Last week the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education approved more tuition hikes for the state’s students, but now Board President Duaine Espegard wants a second look

While I agree that the tuition hikes do need a second look – the state legislature increased total higher ed spending by 32% for the coming biennium while tuition in-state tuition has more than doubled at most of the universities in the last decade – why wasn’t Espegard prepared to make his case against these increases at the last meeting of the SBHE?

The level of incompetence in the governance of our university system from all involved is, at times, stunning.

Board President Duaine Espegard, a retired banker, said Monday he had more time to crunch the numbers after the last meeting and decided it was worth more discussion. A special meeting scheduled Thursday at NDSU is meant to take a second look.

“Upon reflection, when I got home after that meeting, I think about this and say, ‘Is that fair?'” Espegard said. “And because this stuff is kind of complicated, I’m not so sure everybody probably fully understood it. I didn’t until I took another look.”

The state Legislature approved a $900 million higher education budget — a nearly 12 percent increase over the last biennium — while sending a message to the board and university leaders to keep tuition costs down. But the funding does not cover nearly $32 million in inflationary costs, which could be covered under the approved plan if colleges max out their tuition limits.

The plan backed by Shirvani would require six of the 11 colleges to find cost savings to meet their budgets, leaving a shortfall of $3.3 million at the University of North Dakota and $2.4 million at North Dakota State University.

Shirvani asking for the universities to start prioritizing some of their spending is prudent, taking a long-view on the higher ed situation. Run-away spending, and bubble-like growth, has North Dakota way out on a limb when it comes to the university system.

Whether certain university bureaucrats, or their apologists in the media, want to admit it there’s a pop coming for this bubble, and it’s better to ask the universities to prioritize now than to let the train run off the cliff at full speed.

If the taxpayers are going to get hosed on higher ed spending, the least we could do is not hose the students too.

The legislature won’t lead on this issue, nor will Governor Jack Dalrymple, so it behooves Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education to take the lead. It seems as though Espegard, Shirvani and some others may be awake to the problem, but the question is whether or not they can impose their will on a chaotic system populated with university presidents and bureaucrats who would rather maintain the status quo.

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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