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Higher ed expects higher cost: State board sees 9 percent larger budget request in 2015

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Higher ed expects higher cost: State board sees 9 percent larger budget request in 2015
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

GRAND FORKS — Nothing is set in stone, but North Dakota higher education officials have said they are going to be asking for a lot of money during this upcoming legislative session.

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The State Board of Higher Education’s Budget and Finance Committee discussed its budget request for the 2015-17 biennium at a meeting in Grand Forks on Wednesday and will continue working with it into September.

Preliminary numbers show the board is looking at asking for about $64 million just to cover the institutional cost to continue operations, which is about 9.4 percent more than was allotted last biennium and doesn’t yet include funding that will be requested for capital building projects and maintenance or other programs.

But Committee Chair Duaine Espegard said a substantial part of the increase is due to the funding model that was put in place during last year’s legislative session. Base funding for the University System is now tied to completed credit hours, which have increased since last session and require about $49 million in funding, according to the preliminary budget.

And Espegard said about $14 million of that line item is required by the funding model to bring all of the institutions to the “highest tier” and equally distribute funding to all 11 schools.

“When you look at it and say, ‘They’re asking for more money,’ it’s partially based on the governor’s model,” Espegard said. “The other parts are good initiatives, and then there’s just the cost of doing business.”

Covering costs

But he acknowledged that the potential request was large.

“Every one of those dollars that are in there are important to the universities and important to the programs that are out there, but that’s a lot of dollars,” Espegard said.

The committee is also faced with a potential $200 million in expenses to keep up with required building maintenance, according to Director of Facilities Planning Rick Tonder.

Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen explained that much of the money in the rest of the proposed budget is slated to go toward centralizing the information technology department within the North Dakota University System instead of having each individual campus pay for its services. The IT expense would be covered by the university system, and universities would retain the money that would have gone toward that in their respective base budgets.

“The colleges will benefit from that,” Skogen said.

If approved, money is also slated to go toward increasing scholarship amounts and covering the cost to freeze tuition at two-year campuses.

“The students have a good deal, there’s no doubt about it, but the students have been paying more than their share,” Espegard said.

About $14 million in proposed one-time funding could potentially go into campus security, equipment for UND’s petroleum engineering program and tighter IT security for the University System system, among other things, if approved.

Officials are also looking to add an additional $2.5 million request to the budget to cover the cost of a student success monitoring program, which legislators seemed hesitant to fund with a $5 million performance funding pool that was allotted last legislative session.

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Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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