University System's Tuition Weapon Should Be Taken Away


Some North Dakota lawmakers want to take away the North Dakota University System’s authority to set tuition. If you want to know why, we need look no further than two graphs compiled this month by Legislative Council.

The first shows legislative appropriations to the university system growing by 133 percent since the 2005-2007 biennium (it will have grown by 159 percent if lawmakers hit Governor Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget recommendation) while enrollment has grown less than 9 percent. Put simply, taxpayers are spending a lot more money to educate not that many more students:



The second graph shows tuition increases for resident students. At the state’s “research institutions” (UND and NDSU) tuition has increased more than 48 percent. Tuition has increased more than 45 percent at the state’s four-year institutions, and 30 percent at the state’s two-year institutions:



Many lawmakers are feeling like they’re shoveling money at the universities, but that universities are spending it on bloated administration and cushy perks (chauffeur, anyone?). And based on the data, it’s hard to argue with that impression.

Really, North Dakotans ought to be standing outside of campus administrative buildings with pitchforks and torches demanding to know where their tax dollars are going if not to promoting efficient, low-cost education for North Dakota students.

But short of that, Rep. Kim Koppelman has introduced HB1303 which would take authority over tuition away from the NDUS and give it to the Legislature. Not surprisingly, the higher ed bureaucrats hate it, but at least one student representative likes the idea.

“To me it almost makes sense if we’ve got the Legislature appropriating the funds and budget, would it not make sense to let them set tuition?” UND Student Body President Tanner Franklin told the Grand Forks Herald.

It does make a lot of sense, and it also takes a political weapon out of the hands of the universities. Far too often the university uses the threat of tuition increases to leverage more appropriations out of the Legislature. And when they end up raising tuition anyway – which they pretty much always do, as evidenced above – they blame lawmakers for not fully funding their budgets.

Enough is enough.

While I’m not entirely certain that the Legislature’s decisions on tuition are going to be sound – I worry that political pressure will have lawmakers tacking to the other extreme and keeping tuition too low – at least there will be a level of accountability for their decisions that is absent from the university system.