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Tuition waivers don't always attract longtimers to N.D.

GRAND FORKS - Are students who graduate from the North Dakota University System sticking around, or are they setting off for other states?According to a new report, the numbers don't look as bad as some might have believed, but the research shows...

University of North Dakota students walk along University Ave. midday Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, as they make their way to classes. Eric Hylden/Forum News Service
University of North Dakota students walk along University Ave. midday Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, as they make their way to classes. Eric Hylden/Forum News Service
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GRAND FORKS - Are students who graduate from the North Dakota University System sticking around, or are they setting off for other states?

According to a new report, the numbers don't look as bad as some might have believed, but the research shows students who receive waivers for all or part of their tuition have lower rates of job retention than those who receive no waiver.

"This is the first (study) of its kind," said Sam Unruh, research analyst with the North Dakota Information Technology Department, which produced the study.

The waiver programs exist for a variety of students, and some provide incentives for enrollment in specific programs. The reduction in tuition is generally expected to produce benefits later when the graduates live and work in the state.

But according to this data, that isn't always happening.

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Longtime debate

The question of how many students stick around to live and work in North Dakota has been the topic of many policymaker debates, but there was no real data to track graduates.

"All they had was survey data," said Jen Weber, chair of the state longitudinal data system committee.

Now the state has some hard, verifiable data, Weber said.

Released last month, the NDUS Graduate Retainment and Waiver Report by the North Dakota Statewide Longitudinal Data System shows about 44 percent of students who graduate from the NDUS still are working in the state seven years after they complete their first degree.

Students who graduated from a North Dakota high school have even higher rates, with more than 62 percent working in the state seven years after receiving their first degree.

Just more than 18 percent of students who did not graduate from a high school in the state are still working in the state seven years after receiving their first degree.

Contrary to the intent of the tuition waivers, the report found that only 32.3 percent of students who received these waivers for part or all of their tuition for bachelor's degrees still were working in the state seven years after their first degree, compared with 40.6 percent who received no waivers.

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Job retention rates at seven years were likewise lower for students who received waivers for their associate and master's degrees, compared with those who did not.

The report also breaks down job retention rates in dozens of academic programs.

In some programs, tuition waivers resulted in higher job retention rates. Mechanical engineering students who received waivers, for example, had slightly higher rates of employment in the state seven years after receiving their first degree.

Less than 7 percent of waiver students graduating with degrees in the microbiological sciences and immunology programs were working in the state after seven years, whereas 33 percent of students in the program who received no waiver were working in the state.

The longitudinal data system is a federal program providing grants to improve available data in public education.

The state started developing its own data systems in 2008.

"It's now starting to provide us with hard data," Weber said.

Concerns over North Dakota graduates leaving for other states goes back to the 1980s when populations were in decline and policymakers began to wonder if all the state money invested in higher education was producing a professional workforce for the state, or if the graduates were leaving.

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No one was sure if this "brain drain" was happening.

"We've been dying for this data for years," Weber said.

The study doesn't provide any comparative data to other states.

Unruh said going forward, the data will act as a baseline for comparative studies or for examining trends.

The study was developed by matching NDUS data with data from the Unemployment Insurance System.

Due to this methodology, the data counts only NDUS graduates who aren't part of the Unemployment Insurance System, such as those who are self-employed, independent contractors or individuals employed in farming operations.

The report was developed by the state's Information Technology Department, which is set up to be independent of NDUS, as well the state. That way the research the organization completes remains free of any influences from stakeholders.

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