Members of the North Dakota Higher Education Challenge Grant Committee approved nearly $3 million in grant funding for state universities and colleges, but got bogged down in discussion and disallowed, at least temporarily, some requested funding for Minot State University’s preschool program.

Chaired by Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, the committee on Thursday, Nov. 18, handed out grant dollars to institutions, including nearly $1.5 million for the University of North Dakota. When it came time to discuss the preschool program at MSU, members nixed part of the state’s grant after discussing the propriety of giving money to the preschool, with some saying it is beyond the scope of Challenge Grant program.

“(I’ve got) a problem with that preschool,” said Rick Burgum, an at-large committee member appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum. “I don't know if that fits in here.”

The Challenge Grant program provides higher education institutions with $1 in funding for every $2 that is raised privately. The funding is for scholarships and endowments, among other uses.

At MSU, the school received a donation for $75,000 that was to be divided between teacher education scholarships and support for the preschool. The state’s match would have been $37,500. MSU had about $500,000 in other grant applications, all of which were approved, less the amount for the preschool.

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MSU President Steven Shirley explained that the preschool program is housed entirely within the university. Early childhood education students work there, and nursing and speech pathology students give screenings to the children there. Thus, he said, the preschool fits within the university's educational framework.

When asked by Rick Burgum, Shirley said the preschool competes with private preschools in town, but said it is a needed service due to a shortage of such facilities.

North Dakota State University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott spoke in defense of the program and said it is not unique in the state, and that other institutions have provided such a service at the request of civic leaders. Hagerott called the challenge of daycare a national crisis.

“I do appreciate your point of overreach of government, but this is a great example of a needed response,” Hagerott said.

Responded Burgum: “Well, maybe we should give daycare to all the schools then.”

Burgum continued that he is not against child care, but only questions if it belongs in the Challenge Grant program.

Shirley was then invited to re-submit the application for grant funding at a forthcoming Challenge Grant meeting.

While the bulk of the meeting was spent on MSU, UND’s portion flew by without much discussion. DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said $2.3 million was raised for faculty endowments, for which the university sought $1.15 million in a state match. Also, $650,000 was raised for nine scholarships across four colleges at UND, for which the school requested $325,000 from the state. Committee members promptly approved the requests.

“We are very happy (and) our donors are very happy to get these out so that the money can be endowed and put to work very quickly,” Zink said.

Since the start of the program in 2013, UND has received $18.7 million from the Challenge Grant fund to go along with $37.3 million in gifts and endowments, according to a report submitted to the committee by the university. Donors reside in 37 states and the District of Columbia.