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Legislators optimistic about DSU budget

Mike Lefor 1 / 2
Rich Wardner2 / 2

Local legislators are still working hard to secure funding for Dickinson State University.

Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson, said the end is in sight with the final numbers for the higher education budget expected to be released later this week.

"We got about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter kind of thing," he said. "So there's still time."

DSU could lose its nursing department, along with an additional academic department, if the recommended higher education budget is approved as proposed.

But Lefor said he is "cautiously optimistic" things will work out favorably for DSU.

"At the end of day, what I hope is that we can fix Dickinson State and all of the mess that the foundation has gone through and a couple of poor leaders in the past," he said.

The Dickinson State University Foundation—a separate entity in charge of scholarships—was forced into receivership in 2015.

Because of falling enrollment during this biennium, DSU expected to lose some state funding. However, due to a hold-harmless provision added to the higher education appropriations bill, the college will receive $2.3 million that they would not have originally received.

"We are right now in the middle of negotiations," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. "We've got our reps over there working hard to take care of DSU with the House Appropriations people."

Lefor said he worked with DSU President Thomas Mitzel to put together a multiyear plan to present to the conference committee.

"It's going exactly the way that we thought it would. Dickinson State is in a unique situation," he said. "This is a process."

When the higher education appropriations bill goes to the conference committee, Lefor said it will be time to tell the DSU message and show the growth the university has had in the last biennium.

The university had an overall decrease in enrollment during this biennium, with a 9 percent drop between fall 2014 and fall 2015. However, DSU increased overall enrollment this past academic year by 5 percent, increased first-year student enrollment by 7 percent and increased student on-campus occupancy by 16 percent.

Because of the tumultuous biennium DSU has endured, Wardner said it's the legislators goal to help it start the next biennium with the funding needed to be successful.

"I mean DSU has gotten pounded," Wardner said. "The people that did all this are long gone, but that's what happens when you get poor leadership—you end up holding the bag. Right now the city of Dickinson and the current leadership at DSU are holding the bag and we're trying to get as much as we can in that bag so that they can move forward."

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