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Site calculates cost of college

VALLEY CITY -- The state Board of Higher Education began its show-and-tell on student fees Thursday by demonstrating a website that outlines tuition and other costs for certain high-cost college programs such as pharmacy and nursing.

A North Dakota law passed earlier this year requires state colleges to list program charges and how the money was spent, in response to complaints about escalating fees. The measure also caps increases of mandatory fees at 1 percent of tuition for the next two years, unless students request it.

Robert Vallie, the student representative to the board, said students are willing to pay for good programs but want to know where the money goes.

The tuition and fee calculator, demonstrated Thursday by university system chief information officer Randall Thursby, is expected to be available to the public by the end of the month.

"This goes beyond the requirements of the law," Thursby said of the website.

The program is part of an ongoing effort by the board to study fees. An audit is looking at fees and other local funds at NDSU, and the University of North Dakota. Board member Kirsten Diederich of Fargo was named Thursday to lead a board study on the issue.

"You pay a fee and you should be getting a benefit for that fee," said board member Duaine Espegard, of Grand Forks. "I would not want to see a buildup of that money."

Fees make up about 18 percent of the cost of going to a state college, according to state university system data. Last year, four colleges charged more than $1,000 in fees for each student.

The fee calculator does not include the cost of textbooks, a point that led board president Grant Shaft to talk about a hockey puck shooting contest won by his son, John, a college student at Notre Dame. The prize was the cost of books for the semester.

In other action, the board:

- Approved a plan to hire a new university system chancellor within the next four months. The timeline calls for a search committee to interview semifinalists in early February and finalists in early March.

- Approved a plan by NDSU to pay $4.8 million in costs associated with a collapse of a university building while it was being renovated. That brings the total cost of the project to nearly $23 million.

- Agreed to ask Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to speak to the board next month about legal matters involving the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname.