"The university system must begin squeezing more bang out of every buck"

With North Dakota’s post-oil boom revenues falling (though still coming in much higher than just a few years ago) state leaders are being forced to look at spending cuts for the first time in a long time.

Had these leaders not increased spending quite so fast during the oil boom years the present budget unpleasantness might be a bit less painful, but I digress.

One of the biggest areas of spending bloat in the state has been the North Dakota University System. The institutions are now making cuts in accordance with allotments ordered by Governor Jack Dalrymple, but only one institution is making long-term reforms. That’s the University of North Dakota, currently under the care if interim president Ed Schafer.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”The university system must be lean and innovative; it must be flexible, adaptable, and quick to learn new ways when conditions change,” Schafer wrote. “In a nutshell, the university system must begin squeezing more bang out of every buck.”[/mks_pullquote]

Of course, Schafer also used to be governor, and as his overhaul at UND has drawn criticism he has referenced his past work during times of fiscal strife including a veto of the university system budget back in 1993.

This morning a friend in the Legislature was forwarding around a copy of Schafer’s famous veto, and I thought I’d share it with you readers. It’s worth a read (see below).

For context, consider that the budget Schafer vetoed was a $464 million appropriation, which came in $9 million over Schafer’s executive budget recommendation and $15.5 million over the university system’s previous budget.

“The university system must be lean and innovative; it must be flexible, adaptable, and quick to learn new ways when conditions change,” Schafer wrote. “In a nutshell, the university system must begin squeezing more bang out of every buck.”

That statement from 23 years ago reveals two definite truths about the university system today.

First, the universities never seem to learn their lesson. Spending bloat was a problem back then, and it’s a problem today.

Second, North Dakota drifted pretty far afield from Schafer’s vision for efficient higher education spending in the years after he left office. Just counting general fund dollars (note that $255 million of the $464 million appropriation Schafer vetoed was from the general fund), North Dakota’s appropriations to higher education have exploded by more than 130 percent, even if we count the slight reduction in spending in the current biennium.

That while full time equivalent enrollment has grown only 8.45 percent.

spendingvsenrollment

North Dakotans are spending 130 percent more to educate about 8.45 percent more students.

I think that’s definitely a situation where the universities need to be looking to get more bang from the bucks taxpayers give them.

Something to keep in mind as we enter into a new era of austerity in North Dakota and the sturm und drang over budget reductions begins at the universities.

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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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