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ND higher ed board defends NDSU acquisition of Sanford College of Nursing in Bismarck

Kirsten Diederich

GRAND FORKS - Higher education officials told skeptical legislators that North Dakota State University’s acquisition of the Sanford College of Nursing in Bismarck was a smart and well-researched decision at a meeting with the Higher Education Funding Committee on Tuesday.

Even though the Higher Learning Commission told Sanford Health its accreditation was in trouble without a partnership, State Board of Higher Education Chairwoman Kirsten Diederich said the deal was “not a bailout.” Instead, she stressed the state’s need for health care professionals, saying the acquisition was part of the solution to the problem.

“The University System has an obligation to the citizens of this state to anticipate and respond to their needs,” she said. “I’m very excited about this venture.”

Sanford’s general counsel, John Wilson, said the acquisition was considered to provide the state with an educational resource, not because of a threat to accreditation.

“We were not forced because we could not provide the Higher Learning Commission with an answer to the concerns they had,” he said.

Diederich said the deal won’t cost the University System more money, with Sanford putting about $1.3 million into the school over the next three years.

But some legislators worried the deal was too much of a financial burden, with the school needing about $5 million in “appropriated funding” during the fourth and fifth years. About 79 percent of the money would come from tuition and 21 percent from the state’s general fund.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, pointed out that with the higher education funding model put in place during the last legislative session, more students will mean a need for more money, as schools are paid partially based on each credit hour completed by students.

“There’s a need for nursing students, there’s no doubt about that, but when you come out to the public and say, ‘This isn’t going to cost us anything more, we’re not going to ask for any more money,’ that’s not true because taking this over and adding 80 students ... it’s going to cost the taxpayers more,” Dosch said.

Diederich also addressed allegations that the deal was done without board knowledge and said the matter had been discussed with the board in early October.

“This was not a secret,” she said.

She said that even though NDSU President Dean Bresciani signed the deal before getting the green light from the board, it was acceptable because the agreement was contingent upon board approval.