BISMARCK — The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education had a long discussion Thursday, Dec. 6, about whether to offer in-state tuition rates to certain students from out of state.
The board’s discussion was a direct response to the South Dakota Board of Regents’ decision Wednesday to offer in-state tuition to students from six neighboring states: Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming.
The North Dakota SBHE made no decisions Thursday, but many on the board indicated a resolution needs to be reached quickly so North Dakota universities do not lose out on student recruiting.
Lake Region State College and Minot State University already allow exceptions for some out-of-state students to receive in-state tuition.
North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani advocated for the proposal and said South Dakota’s decision will have an immediate effect on enrollment numbers in North Dakota as students consider where they want to attend school and the cost that goes along with that.
“We have the opportunity to respond to an immediate enrollment threat to the state of North Dakota,” Bresciani said. “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.”
While he couldn’t speak for the rest of the campuses, Bresciani said NDSU has considerable enrollment from five of the states South Dakota is offering in-state tuition. He added that NDSU will lose students as a result.
However, recruiting out-of-state students is more than just getting enrollment numbers up, Bresciani said. About 30 percent of out-of-state students take their first jobs in South Dakota. In North Dakota, that number is considerably higher, Bresciani said.
John Richman, president of North Dakota State College of Science, said South Dakota’s previously established “Build Dakota” tuition program already has had a “negative impact” on enrollment in North Dakota and that will continue if the board does not act soon.
“South Dakota has stepped out in front of us once again,” Richman said.
Board member Casey Ryan said the issue brings up a “broader issue” when it comes to presidential autonomy and their ability to make decisions for their universities.
“Our job is to go out and hire really good presidents and then let them be presidents and let them make the decisions that need to be made on a timely basis,” Ryan said.
Board member Dan Traynor and vice chair Nick Hacker each indicated they needed more information about the proposal before they make a decision. Traynor added that he would like to see policy proposals in writing.
“I’m a little bit concerned with approving a proposal that is not fully fleshed out, has no parameters to it, gives carte blanche discretion to university presidents with no report-back guidance and affects the taxpayers of North Dakota,” Traynor said.
Hacker recommended that the board consider the proposal over the next two months.
However, Bresciani said by the time the two months were up the recruiting season for the upcoming fall would essentially be over and the state would have already lost out on students.
Andy Wakeford, who serves as non-voting board member representing staff, said South Dakota is essentially playing a game of “chess” with North Dakota, noting that it’s North Dakota’s turn to “make a move.”
University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy said South Dakotans make up a relatively small portion of the student population at UND but noted that a decision does need to be made promptly.
Kennedy added that the university would still need the flexibility to set its own rates for “differentiated” programs, such as aerospace and petroleum engineering, but the university needs to maintain competitiveness in programs that are similar to other schools.
He added that he appreciates the board’s promptness when dealing with decisions like these and that the board has always been responsive to concerns regarding tuition for the “differentiated” programs.
Discussion about the topic, which was added as a last-minute item to the agenda, went on for more than 40 minutes.
The board may have a special meeting sometime before Christmas to discuss the matter and make a decision.