ND higher ed board not 'three-headed monster,' member says during University System budget presentation
BISMARCK - Five days after the president of the State Board of Higher Education resigned to avoid a distracting battle over her confirmation, state lawmakers started sifting through the North Dakota University System's budget on Monday, saying th...
BISMARCK – Five days after the president of the State Board of Higher Education resigned to avoid a distracting battle over her confirmation, state lawmakers started sifting through the North Dakota University System’s budget on Monday, saying they want specifics on how campuses plan to meet the system’s goals.
Board member Don Morton of Fargo struck a cooperative tone as he introduced the budget to a division of the House Appropriations Committee, saying board members have “a deep commitment to higher education” and strive for budget transparency and accountability.
“If you read the newspapers, you think we’re probably a three-headed monster. I don’t think that’s the case,” said Morton, chairman of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee.
Legislative leaders have pledged close scrutiny of the system’s 2015-17 budget after several controversies involving the board and individual campuses in recent months. Board President Kirsten Diederich resigned Thursday, saying she wanted to put the focus back on students and avoid a Senate confirmation hearing that would “likely become a forum for a power struggle.”
Gov. Jack Dalrymple is recommending the system receive a general fund appropriation of $1.01 billion, a 12 percent increase over the $903 million lawmakers approved for the current biennium but about $176 million less than what the system requested.
The funding bill, House Bill 1003, contains an increase of $131.7 million, or 19.4 percent, in the system’s base budget and $145 million in capital and extraordinary repair projects, including $62 million to complete construction of the new medical school at the University of North Dakota.
Morton said the board’s budget request supports its new five-year plan, the “NDUS Edge,” which aims to keep costs competitive in the region to attract more students to fill jobs in the state. The board is seeking $9.5 million to freeze tuition rates at all 11 campuses, while Dalrymple recommends $2.7 million for a tuition freeze only at two-year colleges.
Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen said the system also hopes to improve student retention and graduation rates.
He presented statistics showing average graduation rates among first-time, full-time students were 20 percentage points above the national average at the system’s two-year colleges, but 7 percentage points below the national average at its four-year institutions, not counting transfer students.
The system hopes to boost those rates through several strategies, including improving admission standards and the registering process.
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, asked if lawmakers would hear specifics on how the strategies will be put into action. Skogen said officials from each institution, who are scheduled to present their budgets throughout the rest of the week, have been asked to discuss how they’ll support the goals.
“We need some answers from the campuses,” said Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, chairman of the committee’s Education and Environment Division.
Monson also was critical of the system’s estimated $800 million backlog in deferred maintenance projects. Dalrymple has recommended $145 million for capital projects in the next two years, which would eliminate $42 million in deferred maintenance.
“I’ve got to believe somebody’s dropped the ball here at some of the campuses,” Monson said.
Skogen said “life goes on” after Diederich’s resignation, noting that two board members, Morton and Kari Reichert, were present Monday to represent the board.
“It was a good start to an important discussion,” he said.