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Tuition bill moves ahead

BISMARCK - A plan to make the state pay college tuition bills moved one step closer to reality Tuesday. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-0 to give a do-pass recommendation to Fargo Sen.

Tony Grindberg

BISMARCK - A plan to make the state pay college tuition bills moved one step closer to reality Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-0 to give a do-pass recommendation to Fargo Sen. Tony Grindberg's "North Dakota Promise" bill.

Senate Bill 2347 would require the state to pay the bulk - and eventually all - of North Dakota students' tuition bills, if students meet certain criteria.

The bill will change the landscape of North Dakota by helping to reverse the declining population and expand the knowledge-based work force, Grindberg said.

Several other states have either adopted or are looking at similar legislation, he said, adding it's now time for North Dakota to stretch the envelope and do the same.


Grindberg's amended proposal states students would be eligible for a promise grant if they have been a state resident since kindergarten.

They must take four units of math at the level of algebra I and higher and take four units of science in high school. A 23 cumulative composite score or math score on the ACT is also required.

The program would begin for students who graduate from high school in 2012 and who attend a North Dakota college or university full time that fall. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative college grade point average.

Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, eligible college freshmen would receive

65 percent of the tuition charged at their school.

Students enrolled at private North Dakota colleges would receive 65 percent of the statewide average tuition charged at the state's public colleges.

Over the next few school years, the percentage of tuition paid by the state would gradually increase.

Beginning in 2017-18, eligible college freshmen would receive the full amount of tuition charged. Private college freshmen would receive the statewide average tuition charged at the public colleges.


Students cannot receive a grant for more than four consecutive years. The grant would be credited toward tuition charges after accounting for other grants and scholarships.

The promise grant would be a pilot program that would conclude after the 2028-29 school year, when it would be evaluated before it could continue, Grindberg said.

To pay for the effort, Grindberg proposes creating a North Dakota merit award trust fund.

The fiscal note to the bill outlines the following costs per biennium: $5.3 million in 2011-13, $27 million in 2013-15; $51 million in 2015-17; $66 million in 2017-19; $78 million in 2019-21; $85 million in 2021-23; $93 million in 2023-25; $87 million in 2025-27; and $40 million in 2027-29.

Grindberg proposes putting $15 million from the state general fund and

$10 million from the state fire and tornado fund in the merit award trust fund for the 2007-09 biennium.

Each biennium thereafter, he proposes $40 million would go in the trust fund, including $15 million from Bank of North Dakota profits and $10 million from the oil extraction trust fund.

The remainder could come from the student loan trust fund and the lottery operating fund, along with interest earnings.


The fund would consist of appropriated money and any gifts or grants received from public or private sources, according to the bill.

Grindberg said the bill isn't perfect, and he's open to suggestions. His main goal is to make sure the bill moves forward with its purposes remaining.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the state needs to seize the moment and retain its best and brightest students.

"The competition in the marketplace is intense. We can elect to compete or we can sit back and let other states pass us by while we watch," Robinson said.

Six supporters of the bill - either with university system or Fargo economic development ties - also testified.

The bill is important for North Dakota colleges and students, said Kate Haugen, North Dakota State University's associate vice president for student affairs.

As former director of admissions, Haugen said North Dakota is losing students both within and outside the state because of financial concerns.

A recent report shows North Dakota ranks second in the nation for the amount of student debt graduates have, she said.


Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, asked if Haugen thought students would spend more time on academics and less time at college jobs if the bill passed. She thinks there is potential for that.

Meanwhile, a few bill changes were proposed by the state Department of Commerce Division of Workforce Development.

Director Jim Hirsch thinks the residency requirements should be more flexible to make the program a better worker recruitment tool. There are also families who leave for a few years and come back, he said.

No one else offered opposition or changes to the bill.

Going into the hearing, Flakoll said there were committee members who didn't favor the bill.

After hearing the testimony, however, Flakoll said the whole committee believes the concept should be kept alive and continue to be discussed.

The bill will move to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Readers can reach Forum reporter


Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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