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NDSU's Bresciani: Budget outlook still 'gloomy'

NDSU President Dean Bresciani announces a $4.5 million endowment during a 1 Million Cups talk at the Stage at Island Park on June 8, 2016. The endowment will seek to promote student scholarships for the university. "Everybody wins in the end," says President Bresciani. Matt Hellman /Forum News Service file photo1 / 2
The Proffutt proposal to develop the 1600 block of University Drive North includes student housing and retail space.Special to The Forum2 / 2

FARGO—North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani warned an alumni group that the budget outlook for 2017-19 remains gloomy and said administrators are girding for a budget cut in the range of 20 percent.

But Bresciani said there still is confusion in the Capitol about which of two gubernatorial budget proposals—or even which budget year—will serve as the baseline to shape the 2017-19 spending plan.

"I think the mood certainly is sobering there," he said. Legislators continue to be "less than optimistic" about the revenue forecast, due March 9, that will guide the size of the budget.

Although public universities in other states have faced cuts of the 20 percent magnitude facing North Dakota higher education, those reductions have been spread over three to six years, not all in one budget period, he said Friday, Feb. 10, when addressing the executive governing panel of the NDSU Foundation and Alumni Association.

"For higher education, it continues to look gloomy," Bresciani said. "We don't know for sure what the cuts are going to be."

If dealt a 20 percent cut, NDSU would be forced to cut employees, including faculty, a step the university hasn't taken yet in handling state-required budget cuts, Bresciani said.

Personnel costs account for three-quarters of the university's budget, and three-quarters of those costs are associated with faculty, Bresciani said.

As a result, class sizes will get larger, some courses won't be offered as often, and therefore some students would take longer to graduate, a combination that could cause student retention rates to drop, Bresciani said.

That's ironic, he added, because North Dakota still faces a "huge gap in filling job vacancies," many of them filled by graduates from NDSU, the University of North Dakota and other campuses.

Also, because faculty teaching loads will increase, their research will suffer, and that will produce "secondary budget effects" because their research funding will decline.

Legislators have budget recommendations from both former Gov. Jack Dalrymple and from Gov. Doug Burgum, who took office Dec. 15. Dalrymple proposed cuts of 15 percent for higher education for 2017-19, and Burgum recommended cutting another 5 percent.

The cuts made to the 2017-19 budget will be in addition to the 6.55 percent trimmed from the current higher education budget, and for most of state government.

"We continue to be in as good a shape as we can be," Bresciani said.

In scaling back, NDSU will set priorities. "We have not taken the approach of across the board budget cuts," he said. That, he believes, is a recipe for "mediocrity."

In other matters, the governing board took several actions to redevelop properties they own adjacent to the campus.

Board members approved extending payments to a consultant that is advising the foundation in redeveloping the 1600 block of North University Avenue, where a $23 million student housing and retail complex is planned.

Total legal and consulting fees for the project are expected to total about $350,000, but the developer, Proffutt Limited Partnership, has said it will reimburse those costs, John Glover, the foundation and alumni association president.

Final architectural designs are expected by the end of the month, and demolition of vacant houses will be this spring, to make room for the project.

Board also members decided to start planning to redevelop an abandoned building it owns at 1206 13th Ave. N., once used for meetings and social gatherings by a fraternity. Members plan to replace the building, probably with housing for a fraternity or sorority.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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