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Former governor's proposed $7.5 million budget cut could eliminate DSU’s nursing department

Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel outlined in an open forum Friday what a $7.5 million proposed budget cut would mean for DSU faculty, staff and students.

Dickinson State University president Thomas Mitzel looks over the power point presentation he shared during an open forum on campus. In the presentation he shared three phases of budget cuts the university will prepare for if the governor's proposed budget passes in legislation. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)
Dickinson State University president Thomas Mitzel looks over the power point presentation he shared during an open forum on campus. In the presentation he shared three phases of budget cuts the university will prepare for if the governor's proposed budget passes in legislation. (Press Photo by Kalsey Stults)

Dickinson State University President Thomas Mitzel outlined in an open forum Friday what a $7.5 million proposed budget cut would mean for DSU faculty, staff and students.

Mitzel will be speaking to the state Legislature Monday about the former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's recommended budget to showcase the successes of DSU in the last year and demonstrate what a budget cut of that magnitude would mean for the college on the hill.

"What I am going to be telling the Legislature, what I've been telling you all here and what I firmly believe and what I think you all know, is right now, DSU is in a very strong position academically, socially and reputation-wise," said Mitzel. "The numbers I am going to be showing you today are not all going to be fun, but what I would tell everybody right now is that we are working extremely hard to try to get the support we need for the next biennium."
During the first year of the newly established DSU Heritage Foundation, $3 million was raised in student scholarships including matching funds from the ND Higher Education Challenge Grant Fund.

Of the 1,386 students who attended DSU in Fall 2016, 67 percent of those students were from the state, with 583 of those students hailing from Stark County.

Mitzel shared with the audience that there was a 5 percent increase in overall enrollment from the fall semester of 2015 and a 7 percent increase in first-year students.

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Proposed budget cuts

Mitzel said the university began the 2015-2017 biennium with nearly $29 million. Dalrymple's outgoing budget recommendations would have the university at almost $21.4 million-a reduction of $7.5 million, or 26 percent.

"We didn't get here because we made mistakes over the last year or two," Mitzel said. "We got here because of things that were somewhat out of our control. I started talking to legislators last February, about a year ago, and I will tell you that we have a lot of support, and I think they understand that this type of reduction will stop the momentum ... but I always say you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best."

A 19-member budget council proposed three phases of budget reductions that Mitzel shared with the audience.
"Be nice to them. The final decisions are mine," he said. "If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at me. They did incredible work in a very difficult area."

He decided to share with legislators what would happen at each phase of the budget and how those cuts will affect the university-which he believes none of the other 10 North Dakota universities will outline.

The first phase would reduce the funding by $2.5 million and would include closing the DSU South Art Building on Villard Street and bringing the department back to the main campus, which would save $200,000.

Mitzel said DSU owns the building and would retain ownership for the next two years until it's decided whether to use it again for students or do something else with the building.

More than $1 million would be saved by closing multiple open positions without hire. That group would include five vacancies in faculty, one for a library director and one in financial aid support staff.

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The school would save an additional $440,000 through contract changes and salary savings.

The rest of the reductions would come from partial building closures, reduced equipment for science labs, fine arts and technology supports, reduced institutional waivers and a reduction in library supplies.

"I'm going to tell you right now, that this I'm pretty sure will all happen," Mitzel said. "And, I'm here to tell you right now that even though all of this does happen, that will not touch how we educate our students. We are still going to be giving our students one of the best educations in the nation."

Phase II: Major cuts for DSU

Phase II reductions would see $2.5 million in savings, but Mitzel said if it gets to this level, "then we start to eliminate the core of who we are."

"Can we do it? Yes. Will we go forward? Yes. Will we still be a strong institution in five or six years? Yes," he said. "But if we implement all of Phase II, my argument is this will stop the momentum that we have been able to build."

Phase II includes a $1.2 million cut to personnel including one director position, three faculty positions and six staff positions. More than $400,000 would be cut from marketing and outreach and more than $350,000 would be reduced by eliminating the STEM initiative in operational cost and one staff position. The rest of Phase II would include reduced equipment for science labs, fine arts and technology support, reduction in student affairs budget, reduced student employment pool, reduced dependent tuition benefit, reduced custodial services, reduced faculty professional development and combined academic departments.

"We have a long legislative session ahead of us and we are working incredibly hard, but if we have to get to the $7.5 (million) we have to show what happens," he said. "Now we start to lose departments. Now we start to lose really the identity of who we are."

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Phase III: Nursing department eliminated

Phase III, the worst-case scenario, includes the biggest cuts to the university, including department cuts.
"My argument is that we are sitting at such a strong academic community position right now that if we can get some help through this biennium, we're going to be much better to the state than if they try to make us do this," he said. "It is in the state's benefit to help us through this area."
Phase III would include a $2.6 million reduction by eliminating the nursing department totaling $1.5 million in operational costs, nine faculty positions and one staff position.
Mary Anne March, the chair of the department of nursing, said that while Mitzel is preparing for the worst and hoping for the best, the nursing department is going to "plan for the best and hope for the better."

The nursing department had 28 associate of Applied Science Practical Nursing students graduate in 2015-16 with 93 percent passing the state board exam and 100 percent being placed in a job after graduating.

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program had 32 students enrolled in 2015-16 with 13 graduating and 89 percent passing the state board exam and 90 percent finding a job. All 13 applied for their registered nursing license in the state, which means they were looking to be hired within North Dakota.
The department recently announced an online bachelor of science in nursing completion program.
"If we go that worse-case scenario, it's heartbreaking, but I hope that it does not come to that," Marsh said. "We have a fantastic program. It's an important program."

Phase III would also include reductions of $200,000 made by eliminating two coaching positions and an $880,000 cut by eliminating an undetermined academic department.

Mitzel described the sums as "ugly numbers."
"We are going to fight extremely hard to make sure that we have everything in place to keep moving forward," he said.

Mitzel ended his remarks by telling everyone to keep planning for the future and not to panic about the numbers. He said he will be working hard to avoid seeing the budget cuts come to fruition.

"Work with me," Mitzel said. "Together we have an incredible story. Let's keep the story going."

Related Topics: DICKINSON STATE UNIVERSITY
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