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Higher-ed leaders say Burgum's budget is good starting point, but more dollars needed to avoid tuition hikes

Board members, university presidents to request additional funding from Legislature to fund proposed salary increases

North Dakota University System
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BISMARCK — State higher education leaders say while Gov. Doug Burgum's proposed higher education budget is a good start for the upcoming biennium, more funding will be needed to avoid future tuition hikes.

The proposed budget, which would span from 2023-25, totals $683.1 million, a decrease of 0.5% from the previous biennium. According to Chancellor Mark Hagerott, Burgum’s proposed budget largely aligns with that of the North Dakota University System’s requests.

“I’ve had board members around for a long time, who have said that they’ve never seen a more positive interaction with the governor,” Hagerott said during the board's regular meeting on Thursday — the last before the legislative session commences in January. “He adopted just about everything we requested, and added even more funding.”

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Burgum’s proposed budget includes funding two $10 million workforce training and retention initiatives — the workforce education and innovation program and energy scholarship pilot program. The funds from these programs, if approved by the Legislature, would be distributed across NDUS institutions, and used to educate workers according to the needs of the state’s employers.

Hagerott said although budgetary meetings with the governor were largely positive, the SBHE is pushing for an increase in the proposed budget to include larger salary increases to avoid tuition hikes.

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Burgum has proposed salary increases for NDUS employees — 6% in the first year of the biennium, and 4% in the second — to offset the effects of inflation. According to members of the board and NDUS university presidents, however, the proposed salary increases will result in tuition increases under the current funding formula.

Stephen Easton, president of Dickinson State University, said tuition increases will make it harder for NDUS’ institutions to retain North Dakota students.

“The lack of funding for the salary increases in the budget’s executive recommendations is inviting a major disaster,” Easton said. “South Dakota appears like it will adopt a tuition freeze statewide, and Minnesota is investing a lot of money to retain its university students, as well as attract ours. The proposed salary increases will require substantial tuition increases without state support. I would request that the State Board work hard to get the entirety of the salary increases funded by the Legislature.”

UND President Andrew Armacost said while he believes state legislators are amenable to working with the SBHE to address the aforementioned concerns, it is incumbent upon board members and university presidents to apprise legislators of funding challenges.

“There’s a lot of information that’s lacking, even from seasoned legislators,” said Armacost. “When we were in Bismarck this week, we talked with a number of legislators, and they had no idea how significant the tuition funding component of the proposed pay raises is, and how it isn’t covered by the current proposed legislative appropriation. All of us need to get out and share the word with our legislators on how detrimental such substantial tuition increases would be to our campuses.”

Board members also participated in an executive session, receiving a briefing regarding cybersecurity concerns within the NDUS system.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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