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Private colleges to see larger grants

Students at North Dakota's private colleges will receive bigger checks from a state grant program than their public college counterparts this fall, which doesn't please some lawmakers and higher education officials.

Students at North Dakota's private colleges will receive bigger checks from a state grant program than their public college counterparts this fall, which doesn't please some lawmakers and higher education officials.

The state Legislature approved a section in the higher education funding bill that requires 23.5 percent of funds appropriated for the State Student Incentive Grant program to be awarded to students at the state's three private colleges.

As a result, the grant award will jump from $600 to $1,000 per year for private college students, while remaining at $600 for students at the state's 11 public campuses and five tribal colleges.

State Board of Higher Education member Bruce Christianson of Minot said the 23.5 percent mandate "seems to be a little bit out of kilter," considering only 9 percent of the state's college students attend Jamestown College, the University of Mary in Bismarck and Trinity Bible College in Ellendale.

"Those folks in the Legislature need to look at these things a little closer. I don't think it's treating our public students fairly," he said Monday during a meeting of the board's budget and finance committee.


However, the lawmaker behind the mandate said the intent was to partially restore the grant program to its original purpose of benefiting students at the University of Mary and Jamestown College.

"Unfair is the public schools taking part of what was designated for the privates," said Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck.

The 1979 Legislature created a Tuition Equalization Grant for students attending Mary and Jamestown College. Lawmakers merged that program with the public college grant program in 1987, said Laura Glatt, vice chancellor for administrative affairs for the North Dakota University System.

State law didn't specify what portion of the grants had to go to private students, Glatt said. It figured in the higher cost of private college tuition, which allowed more private college students to rise to the top of an "unmet needs" list, she said.

Martinson used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to secure a 20 percent share of the grant funding for private college students in 2001 and a 22 percent share in 2003. He proposed a 25 percent share this year, but it was whittled to 23.5 percent in conference committee.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, who served as chairman of the conference committee, said he was under the impression the Board of Higher Education would increase the grants to $1,000 for all college students.

But because the grant program receives federal funding, it can't arbitrarily move private college students to the top of the list, Glatt said. The only way to meet the mandate is to raise the grant amount, she said.

University System Chancellor Robert Potts did that in mid-May to beat the May 31 deadline for notifying students of financial aid awards. The three-person budget and finance committee ratified his decision Monday, and the full board will be asked to do the same when it meets June 16 in Grand Forks.


The 2005 Legislature increased funding for the grant program by about $428,000, bringing its total general fund budget to about $3.3 million, Glatt said.

Board members decided in May to freeze the grant at $600 for the upcoming school year and study the idea of raising the amounts incrementally in 2006-07.

The program is scheduled to award 3,192 grants this year, compared with 2,175 last year. The number of private college students set to receive awards is down to 555, from 570 last year.

North Dakota State University has the biggest stake in the program, with 617 students set to receive grants next fall. The University of North Dakota sits in second place with 474 awards, while the University of Mary, a Roman Catholic school, is in third place with 364 students.

James Kennedy, director of student financial services at NDSU, said he's pleased with the number of grants awarded to NDSU students, but not with the disparity in grants for public and private students.

"If that's going to happen, we'd like to see it up to $1,000 for our students, too," he said.

With the higher grant amount, Mary's students would receive a total of $364,000. Meanwhile, those at UND - the state's largest public campus, with more than 13,000 students - would receive $284,400.

Rep. Pam Gulleson, D-Rutland, who serves with Martinson on the House Appropriations Committee's education and environment division, said she supported the 23.5 percent mandate as part of the overall higher ed funding package, but she doesn't support the current arrangement.


"If that percentage amount turns it upside-down so that those attending private schools receive a greater amount than public, then we certainly need to address it," she said.

Unlike in the 2001 and 2003 legislative sessions, the mandate was written into state statute this spring. Holmberg said lawmakers were "tired of having it consistently slip into the session laws."

Martinson said he believes the mandate will stay at 23.5 percent. Private colleges have strong support in the Legislature and in other states such as Minnesota, he said.

The footing is less firm for a $150,000 earmark Martinson secured in the higher education bill for doctoral programs at the University of Mary. Before the bill was passed, language was changed to say the board "may" allocate the money.

Christianson and board member Sue Andrews of Fargo were unreceptive to the idea Monday. The issue will be on the agenda at the board's next meeting.

"I like discussion, but I'm not sure I need this one," Andrews said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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