Legislative committee favors tuition freeze only for two-year colleges
GRAND FORKS — A North Dakota legislative committee on Tuesday recommended that lawmakers fund a tuition freeze at the state’s two-year colleges but left out four-year campuses.
The State Board of Higher Education had approved a budget last month calling for a tuition freeze at all 11 North Dakota University System institutions, contingent on funding to increase employees’ salaries and benefits.
But Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, a member of the legislature’s Higher Education Funding Committee, said there will be a lot more discussion on the matter before lawmakers make any final decision.
“There’s quite a bit of unhappiness with some of the requests the board has been making and some of the things they’ve said about how we’re starving them while they’re getting millions and millions,” he said.
The SBHE partially blamed the last tuition increase on an appropriation shortfall from the Legislature.
According to a presentation by Laura Glatt, University System vice chancellor for administrative affairs, it would cost the state $76 million to fund a tuition freeze at all colleges, increase salaries by an average of 3 percent, health insurance by 7 percent and retirement contributions by 1 percent. It would cost $86.7 million to do the same thing and increase salaries by an average of 4 percent.
These costs include money for the tuition funding model that was put into place during the last legislative session.
Holmberg said lawmakers were in favor of freezing tuition only at two-year campuses because “the rationale, very simply, is if you look at the region, our two-year schools have tuition that’s higher.”
He said another issue is there are a lot of students who come to University System institutions from out of state.
“If we freeze tuition at (North Dakota State University) and (the University of North Dakota) and the taxpayers pick up the difference, the money would go to subsidize students from out of state, and the Legislature is certainly not there to embrace that,” he said. “That makes us nervous.”
Holmberg also said capping tuition increases at four-year campuses is an option, but the issue will be explored in more concrete terms as the 2015 legislative session draws closer.
The committee also passed a motion to increase the state’s merit-based scholarship program by about 33 percent, increasing the amount a student can get from $6,000 to $8,000.
“This is a lot of great news for higher education in North Dakota,” said committee member Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo.
Need-based scholarships got a 22 percent boost, so students can get $2,000 annually instead of $1,650.
Those two student affordability items will go forward in the form of a bill during the upcoming legislative session.