Higher education board approves allocation request, tuition freeze
GRAND FORKS — The State Board of Higher Education is asking the North Dakota Legislature to freeze tuition for two years at all institutions in its 2015-17 budget request, which is significantly higher than its last request.
In doing that, the board is asking the Legislature to fund the $84.8 million base budget request entirely, and the freeze is contingent on the Legislature covering the cost of increased salaries and benefits for institutions as well.
“We’re asking the Legislature to come forward and help the students with a break,” board member Duaine Espegard said.
The $84.8 million will cover the continued cost of operation for various things, including an internal audit and mental health support services for students. It is 12.5 percent higher than the board’s request two years ago.
“Sometimes when you see a large budget it’s easy to say, ‘Boy, they want everything,’ but when you look at this budget, I think you’re going to understand it was put together with careful thought,” Espegard said.
And $49 million of the request is due to the funding model that was put in place during the last legislative session that is tied to credit hour completion.
The budget also includes $13.1 million to fund student affordability items, $14.7 million to fund one-time expenses like more data security and petroleum engineering equipment for the University of North Dakota, $18.5 million in one-time funding for UND’s new School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and $1.6 million in base funding for the Forest Service and med school rural health program.
The budget passed unanimously through the board and will go before Gov. Jack Dalrymple before being passed on to the Legislature with his recommendations.
North Dakota University System institutions also presented their building and renovation funding requests to the board in light of a Systemwide Master Plan Facility Condition Assessment that showed which schools were in need of what kinds of renovations.
The report said UND had adequate space for its current enrollment, so Alice Brekke, UND vice president for finance and operations, requested $86 million in total but stressed the most pertinent need was $40 million for renovating existing space within the college to optimize its use.
She said this would create a “bit of a domino effect” and a need for the rest of the funding request to take care of deferred maintenance and the creation of more collaborative learning space.
But most schools opted to ask for dollar amounts tied to specific building projects, and UND’s decision to pool the money according to use didn’t sit well with Espegard, who said the proposal “needed some work” before going to the Legislature.
The Pathways to Student Success Program, which would raise admission standards at universities and push some students to two-year universities before attending four-year and research institutions, was also discussed.
One committee recommended Pathways embody higher acceptance standards at universities but also include a sliding scale that puts more weight on high school GPA than ACT and SAT scores.
For example, students would need a 2.75 GPA and an ACT score of 21 to be accepted at research institutions UND and North Dakota State University but could still get in if they had a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 with an ACT score of only 18.
Board member Grant Shaft voiced concern that Pathways wouldn’t effectively improve retention and graduation because schools would also consider exceptions to the rule, but Lori Reesor, a member of the SBHE’s Admissions Index for Student Success Task Force and UND’s vice president for student affairs, said they didn’t want to discourage international and nontraditional students from applying.
The committee also recommended gradually requiring high school students to complete more core classes to be accepted into a university.
The board is still working on finding a cohesive tuition model for Pathways, which Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Laura Glatt said was difficult with every institution being “in a different place right now.” For example, some schools charge per credit hour while others don’t. The board also plans to work with K-12 officials to figure out the best way to teach remedial courses, as one committee said two-year universities weren’t equipped to handle the influx.
Glatt also suggested a tiered approach to implementing Pathways once more concrete plans could be put in place.
The board is waiting to hear from an outside assessing agency and won’t make any decisions regarding Pathways until September.