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No new funding for NDSU

BISMARCK - North Dakota State University dodges an audit but gains no additional money in a compromise reached Thursday on higher education funding. Some Fargo lawmakers who have pushed throughout the session for more money to equalize funding to...

BISMARCK - North Dakota State University dodges an audit but gains no additional money in a compromise reached Thursday on higher education funding.

Some Fargo lawmakers who have pushed throughout the session for more money to equalize funding to NDSU are disappointed in the deal worked out by House and Senate conferees on Senate Bill 2003.

"That's horrible," Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo, said after hearing about the newest version of the bill. "That's not enough for equity. I don't see why Bismarck, Fargo or Devils Lake delegations wouldn't reject that conference committee report."

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, believes many legislators won't be satisfied with the report.

"I might not be able to vote for it - the conference committee report," he said. "This may be one that has to go back, that needs to go back (for more negotiations)."

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But the newest version of the bill makes no mention of a threatened audit of the NDSU Athletic Department, and blocks a planned audit of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine - two audits that many lawmakers saw as a tit-for-tat squabble that stems in part from NDSU's move to NCAA Division I athletics.

Sen. Richard Brown, R-Fargo, said he heard the audit would have cost NDSU $500,000 and is glad it's not in the bill.

"I would hope the hostility for the school going to Division I will lay down and die," he said.

The agreement Thursday retains an extra $2 million put into the bill several weeks ago to help equalize state funding for the state's 11 colleges and universities. All of the institutions use a peer group comparison to measure whether theirs is close to the funding similar institutions in other states receive. Under the formula, NDSU, Bismarck State College and Lake Region State College in Devils Lake are the most underfunded of the North Dakota institutions.

As much as he hoped for more money for NDSU, Brown said he would be reluctant to send the bill back to conference committee for another round of negotiations.

"I'm disappointed. I have not talked to anyone about whether we should fight the conference report," he said.

He fears that if the bill returns to a conference committee, money will be taken out, not added.

Keith Bjerke, vice president of university relations at NDSU, was sanguine at the news of the bill's changes and the amount of equity funds it contains

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"Well, I mean, legislators legislate," he said. "My concern was to make them aware of an issue that was being ignored. It's a whole lot better than nothing."

One section of the bill that raised eyebrows was a mandate that would send $150,000 to the private University of Mary in Bismarck. In the compromise bill, the state Board of Higher Education may devote that much money to student aide in U-Mary doctoral programs, but it is not mandated.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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