Recently the public university system in South Dakota announced they would be allowing students from neighboring states to pay in-state tuition rates at their institutions.
The reaction from some in the North Dakota University System was borderline embarrassing. NDSU President Dean Bresciani, along with NDSCS President John Richman, rushed to the State Board of Higher Education and demanded autonomy over their own tuition rates to compete with South Dakota.
“We have the opportunity to respond to an immediate enrollment threat to the state of North Dakota,” Bresciani, in his typically intemperate style, told the board at a December 6 meeting. “When I say immediate, I don’t mean somewhere down the road. We’re in the heat of the enrollment cycle right now. South Dakota was not accidental for implementing this for this summer.”
“South Dakota has stepped out in front of us once again,” Richman, who is essentially Bresciani’s water boy, chimed in for his part.
The board, wisely, declined to buy into this overwrought proposal from a couple of reactionary campus presidents who are still very much mired in the old higher education business model predicated on bigger physical campuses filled with more students.
Now Mark Kennedy, President of the University of North Dakota, is calling out South Dakota’s move for what it is. An act of desperation:
In response to declining enrollments, the South Dakota Board of Regents recently approved giving in-state tuition to students from North Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska, Montana and Colorado.
The move, which is known as the South Dakota Advantage, has been discussed at length during recent State Board of Higher Education meetings as a potential threat to enrollment numbers across the state. However, Kennedy said there is much more to an education than a price point. Other factors like the economy and program quality are also key.
“We view this, at UND, as an act of desperation on the part of South Dakota that will not play well into the long-term future,” he said.
Kennedy is right. Initiatives like the one in South Dakota are the last gasps of an outdated way of delivering post-secondary education.
While myopic higher ed leaders like Bresciani and Richman are still concerned with packing students on their campuses, the market for higher education demands more flexibility.
It seems Kennedy gets that. Following South Dakota’s lead would be joining a race to the bottom.