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NDSU plans to merge academic colleges amid budget cuts

President David Cook sent a message to the North Dakota State University campus community on Tuesday, Nov. 29, asking for feedback on draft proposals.

President Cook stands in front of the NDSU seal.
North Dakota State University President David Cook holds a press conference to talk about a potential reorganization of the university Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Old Main, Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum
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FARGO — North Dakota State University will look to merge some of its academic colleges and departments, and eventually eliminate some majors and programs, to prepare for funding cuts. 

President David Cook made the announcement on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in an email to the campus community.

Cook said the university will aim to reduce its seven academic colleges down to four or five , and he wants feedback from people on campus on the best way to do it.

“It’s kind of the first step in a pretty tough journey over the next couple of months, but I think it's going to set us up for a lot of success moving forward,” Cook told reporters during a news conference after the announcement.

Cook did not address the question of whether the budget cuts or university reorganization will lead to layoffs.

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Cook said cuts to NDSU athletics are possible.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

Cook revealed NDSU’s budget challenges in late October resulting from a decline in student credit hours that form the base of the state funding it receives. The cuts, totaling $10.5 million, will amount to a 5.48% decrease in NDSU’s base funding through 2023-25.

The declines are tied to a drop in NDSU student enrollment, which peaked in 2013-14, then began eroding and fell sharply in 2017-18, a drop that mirrors nationwide college enrollment trends.

Cook tasked Interim Provost David Bertolini with leading an effort to transform the institution in the face of those challenges.

That effort, known as NDSU Transform, includes four draft ideas developed by deans, based on reports that came out of a college and department merger committee.

“This will be disruptive,” Bertolini wrote in the email, but added that its outcome will strengthen the university.

NDSU’s current seven academic colleges are: Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources; Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Business; Engineering; Health Professions; Human Sciences and Education; and Science and Mathematics.

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Cook said no immediate cuts to majors or programs are planned, but eventually there will be some.

Asked about students enrolled in certain majors that might later be targeted for cuts, Cook said they should “sit tight.”

“No rug is going to be pulled out from underneath them,” he said.

Low enrollment, high cost programs may be looked at initially, but decisions will be based primarily on the current workforce needs in the state.

“That’s going to be a critical driver in all of this,” Cook said.

While cuts are the focus now, he said NDSU will also consider new investment ideas because you “can’t just cut your way to get there.”

He said those ideas could include new academic programs to meet workforce needs.

Feedback on these early plans to merge academic colleges can be email to NDSU.Transform@ndsu.edu. The feedback period will last until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, and more firm plans based on results will be announced in January.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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