Thanks, Bismarck State College, for Illustrating Why We Can’t Trust the University System

Larry Skogen, president of Bismarck State College

For years there has been tension between the North Dakota University System and state lawmakers. Most of it having to do with the universities playing politics over budget issues.

A recent case in point is this media blitz by Bismarck State College which has the institution’s leadership feeding cooked numbers to credulous reporters in the hopes of angering voters to the point of influencing outcomes in the Legislature.

You can see the press release sent out by BSC President Larry Skogen below. He has to be pleased with the headlines it produced.

“Facing low morale, Bismarck State College likely to see more cuts to address budget woes,” reads one headline over Bismarck Tribune reporter Blair Emerson’s article.

BSC saying they get 30 percent less in state funding per student is outrageously misleading to the point where the school ought to issue a retraction and an apology.

At the heart the problems with this report is BSC’s characterization of their per-student funding. “BSC is the third largest North Dakota University System institution in the state and receives 30 percent less state funding per student than the average of other colleges in the system,” Emerson writes, no doubt citing BSC’s press release which makes the same claim.

That may be an accurate claim, but it’s not relevant because North Dakota’s universities are not funded on a per-student basis. You can read an explanation for the state’s funding model for the universities here, but in a nutshell the universities get funding based on performance.

The thinking is that funding universities based on enrollment numbers only encourages them to go to ridiculous lengths to pack their campuses with students while spending little time concerned about whether those students are completing their credits or dropping out.

So BSC saying they get 30 percent less in state funding per student is outrageously misleading to the point where the school ought to issue a retraction and an apology.

BSC also, in their press release, makes much of their 29,000 “non-credit” students, but that’s as significant as the number of bananas they have for sale down in the cafeteria. What the schools get funding for is students completing credits. Students who aren’t getting credits, by definition, are irrelevant to state funding.

When Bismarck-based TV station picked up the school’s press release they claimed in their report that BSC has the 3rd highest enrollment but second lowest funding:

This is utter bunk.

The table below shows the funding levels for all of the schools in the North Dakota University System both for the current biennium, which ends in June, and the budget request for the coming biennium which begins July 1.

As you can see, BSC has the 5th highest funding level among all of the state’s 11 campuses, with three of the four schools ahead of BSC being four-year institutions. Among two-year institutions, BSC has the second highest level of funding:

There is no question that the university system, along with every other part of state government, is in line for a hair cut. Our state leaders, for better or worse, built huge increases in state spending on top of booming revenues driven by oil development.

But now the oil boom is over, the boom-time revenues have diminished, and everybody is feeling the pain.

That doesn’t excuse BSC promulgating a distorted view of its budget picture to the public.

The university system has a terrible reputation for engaging in this sort of politicking. These machinations have, again, led to no small amount of faction and resentment among lawmakers.

Shame on BSC not just for playing politics but for doing so based on misleading talking points.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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