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Higher ed board approves tuition increase limits: Dickinson State sets cap near 5 percent

BISMARCK — After lengthy discussion, the State Board of Higher Education approved tuition increase limits at the state’s 11 colleges and universities based on how much college presidents indicated they would need to raise tuition for the 2014-15 school year.

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Students at most schools will see tuition increases at or lower than the rates initially proposed by the board’s budget and finance committee, except for North Dakota State University, which can expect a 4.23 percent increase.

In addition to the increase for NDSU, the approved tuition increase caps are 4.9 percent at the University of North Dakota, 4.16 percent at Valley City State University, 5.09 percent at Minot State University, 3.57 percent at Mayville State University, 5.08 percent at Dickinson State University, 2.42 percent at Dakota College of Bottineau, 3.28 percent at the North Dakota State College of Science, 7.1 percent at Williston State College, 2.13 percent at Lake Region State College and 3.81 percent at Bismarck State College.

The board considered two proposals – one supported by the budget and finance committee and another put forward by the chancellor and college presidents.

The need to increase tuition comes from the cost to continue programs at the state’s colleges. That cost includes salary and benefit increases, utilities and inflation. Under the new funding model for higher education, that cost is shared by students and the state. For the upcoming academic year, about $3.5 million of the state’s share was not funded.

The chancellor’s plan called for tuition rate increases that would cover the $3.5 million that wasn’t funded by the state. The board’s budget and finance committee only recommended increases that covered the students’ share of the cost to continue programs.

Some board members, including Duaine Espegard, Grant Shaft and Kathleen Neset, disagreed with that approach because they said students shouldn’t make up for the lack of state appropriations.

Espegard said the governor did not specify what should happen if the Legislature doesn’t fully fund the system’s request.

“Does it get passed to the student? It does not,” he said. “If that’s the case, then what’s the incentive to be efficient?”

Shaft warned that if the board shifted that $3.5 million shortfall to students, the board would “pay a heavy price” in front of the Legislature next session.

“The Legislature is going to go to the point where they’ll absolutely dictate what tuition is,” he said.

Board member Kari Reichert said they have to allow campuses to raise tuition to cover basic inflationary expenses, like set salary increases, or there’s no room for improvement.

“We want to improve, but we’re not even going to fund the cost to continue?” she asked.

She said the board should give the presidents maximum flexibility to determine tuition rates.

The board approved a modified version of the chancellor’s plan that sets tuition increase caps, but also sets the actual tuition increase rates at the presidents’ expected level. The presidents can then petition the board at a later date for an increase up to the cap with appropriate justification.

All of the presidents’ expected tuition increases at their campuses meet or are lower than proposed increase limits developed by the board’s budget and finance committee, except for NDSU, which could go up by $268, or 4.23 percent.

NDSU President Dean Bresciani told the board the school needs to raise tuition by 4.23 percent because it’s “still recovering from long-term underfunding.”

At the campus level, the difference between the budget and finance committee’s proposed 3.28 percent increase for NDSU and the approved 4.23 percent increase is a little less than $1.25 million in tuition generated, he said.

Students from the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University indicated during the meeting that they wanted to keep tuition increases as low as possible. Students at the state’s top research schools will be hit the hardest with tuition hikes more than $225.

Robert Kringler, a representative from the NDSU student government who addressed the board, said students were more comfortable with the 3.28 percent increase.

While Kringler said he didn’t want to “stifle the growth” of the university, he didn’t think the 1 percent difference would matter and said he was hesitant about making up for state support with tuition increases.