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Higher ed board approves DSU debt payment plan: Officials ready to step in should proposal fail again

Ham Shirvani, the chancellor of North Dakota's university system, gestures as he describes a proposal for stricter entrance standards for North Dakota's public colleges at a meeting of the state Board of Higher Education on Wednesday at the Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy in Bismarck.

BISMARCK -- Dickinson State University has a plan to pay off its ongoing debt, but should the school fail to pay in the allotted time -- as it has in the past -- tough decisions will be made to take care of the problem.

That was the consensus Wednesday at the State Board of Higher Education Executive Committee meeting at the Bismarck Public School Career Academy, where the committee accepted the school's payment proposal.

Although it has been reduced, DSU has carried the debt since 2009, according to meeting documents. The debt totals $70,908, with the Business Challenge carrying $41,286, while the remainder, $29,622, is from Title IV Administration.

"We've watched this, at least from Dickinson, come along each time," committee chairman and SBHE President Duaine Espegard said. "And it's always based on good things happening that it's going to go away. But I think there should be a definite plan to it."

DSU submitted a debt reduction plan, as did Mayville State University, but DSU has done so every year for the past four years, vice chancellor for administrative affairs Laura Glatt said.

"What they've laid out here appears to be reasonable," she said. "I would add, though, that both of them continue to be based upon a number of assumptions on enrollments in programs, obtaining outside grant funding, and while that's positive, as you know, some of these deficits have been ongoing for a period of time. It seems like every year we don't attain our goal and every year we come back with a revised reduction plan."

The deficit has been going down, but it has not been eliminated as previously planned, Glatt said.

"The question, I guess, for the committee, is how many times do we let them continue to extend the timeline for elimination of it?" she said.

One of the biggest concerns with ongoing debt is that it continues to accumulate and becomes a structural deficit, Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said.

"The hard decisions that have to be made now to eliminate deficit just keep getting postponed," he said, "and then with the hope of (more funding) and covering it."

The committee, comprised of Espegard, Kirsten Diederich, Grant Shaft and Don Morton, unanimously decided to support Shirvani's recommendations to accept the payment plan, but revisit the issue should the school fail to pay the debt in full in the time specified. The full board also approved the issue.

Wednesday was the first time the board broke out into the Executive Committee, which was created to discuss procedural items and speed up the full meeting by reviewing agenda items and making recommendations as to whether the full board should approve or deny motions brought to the main meeting. The afternoon meeting adjourned 30 minutes early despite starting 10 minutes late.

DSU also will add two minors, one in geographic information systems and the other in soil science.

The China Center at Sichuan International Studies University will be terminated, as will the Bachelor of Arts in business administration, as most students opt for the Bachelor of Science, and the certificate in entrepreneurship.

The item was brought before the Academic Committee in the morning and was approved by the SBHE at the main meeting in the afternoon.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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