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Letter: Reform needed in university system

"It's time the state of North Dakota started to fund students rather than schools." This statement by Rod Backman, former director of the office of management and budget under both Gov. Schafer and Gov. Hoeven, was probably the most poignant made during the North Dakota Public Policy Institute on Dec. 20 in Bismarck. While it is revolutionary in comparison to the way things are currently done with regard to higher education, it is a glaring statement of common sense.

According to fall 2008 enrollment figures 43,442 students are enrolled in the North Dakota University System (17,552 of which are non-residents -- a full 40 percent statewide). Even more startling is that only 48 percent of NDSU students and 49 percent of University of North Dakota students are North Dakota residents -- less than half.

This begs the question "when does the priority become tuition reduction for the children of North Dakota taxpayers rather than the boosting of enrollment?"

According to University System figures, 70 percent of non-resident graduates leave the state within two years of graduation. Some 10,103 students from Minnesota attend school in North Dakota and have 45 percent of their education subsidized by the taxpayers of the state. The remaining 7,449 non-residents from states other than Minnesota have their tuition subsidized sometimes as much as 25 percent.

While non-residents should not be begrudged for attending school here, it's entirely valid to ask how much of the bill North Dakota taxpayers should cover.

Let's also keep in mind that while 10,103 Minnesota residents benefit from the reciprocity system, less than 6,000 North Dakotans benefit by attending school in Minnesota. So there is a drastic trade deficit within the system.

There are some major unanswered questions related to the direction and accountability of the current University System, and some reforms that should be looked at. The North Dakota Taxpayers' Association has called for an open public discussion on whether current policies and spending practices by the University System have a net cost or benefit to the state of North Dakota, its students, and taxpayers.

Dustin Gawrylow,

Mandan, executive director of the North Dakota Taxpayers' Association