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From the Hawks’ Nest: Financial Support from North Dakota’s Taxpayers

“From the Hawks’ Nest” is a monthly column by Dickinson State University President Steve Easton

2023 - NEWS - FHN - January.jpg
Dickinson State University President Steve Easton, author of the monthly column “From the Hawks’ Nest”
File art courtesy of Dickinson State University
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One of my favorite duties is meeting with prospective students. When I get that opportunity, I tell them that there are many reasons why Dickinson State is their best option for college. Because time is usually limited, though, I only cover the top three.

Individualized Attention: Reason number one is the individualized attention that DSU students receive from hardworking faculty, staff, coaches, and administrators. We are a small school with a family atmosphere. We care about each other. When a student needs extra help to pass a course, there are dedicated DSU employees who help.

Great Opportunities: Despite the fact that we are small, students have a wide range of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. We have many certificate and degree options that can prepare students for a variety of careers. In addition, we have a wealth of extracurricular opportunities, including student government, music, theater, athletics, and other student organizations.

As I tell the students, they don’t have to choose just one activity, like the students at large universities. Many of our students excel in more than one. As one example, a recent graduate who won the Rimington Award as the top NAIA football center in the country also sang in several choirs.

Reasonable Cost: The final reason to come to DSU is that we happily provide students with individual attention and an array of opportunities at a reasonable cost. Unlike the students who attend other universities, our graduates are not ruined by college debt. Instead, many of our students graduate debt free, while others have reasonable college debt.

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Taxpayer Support: We work hard to keep our costs as low as we can. But we don’t do it alone.

As our name suggests, Dickinson State is a public institution that receives substantial support from you, the North Dakota taxpayers. It would not be possible for us to provide this top-notch education without your help.

Legislative Hearings: This month, the Legislature started its biennial session. As part of the legislative process, we tell the House Appropriations Committees about Dickinson State and ask for continuing financial support.

My first meeting with the House Appropriations subcommittee was about ten days ago. I opened our presentation by noting the work we have done to keep our expenses low, including eliminating about twenty percent of our full-time positions and ten percent of our expenses in January of 2020. As I noted, we have maintained those savings. Indeed, we froze tuition for the past two years.

Then, I shared the good news of DSU’s enrollment growth. During the COVID pandemic, undergraduate enrollment nationwide is down well over nine percent. During that same time, Dickinson State’s enrollment is up over nine percent.

In addition, I asked for continuing financial support of our employees. That brings the discussion to our biggest expense, by far, which is compensation, i.e., salaries, health insurance and other fringe benefits, and payroll taxes. Compensation expenses are about to increase significantly.

Governor Doug Burgum has recommended that salaries for state employees, including those at state colleges, increase 6% next year and an additional 4% the following year. The hardworking employees of Dickinson State, like those at other state agencies, deserve those raises, which will not even cover the costs of inflation of about 18% since their last raise.

But paying for those raises, no matter how well deserved, will be challenging. When I testified on behalf of DSU at the House Appropriations Subcommittee, I asked the legislators to fully fund whatever raises they deemed appropriate. If, as in recent legislative sessions, only about half of DSU’s raises are funded, we would have to raise tuition substantially to fund the remaining portion.

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Substantial tuition raises would send students to other schools, especially when two of our neighboring states (South Dakota and Minnesota) are proposing flat tuition for the next year or two. Thus, the momentum that is building at DSU could be stopped in its tracks.

Please know that DSU students do pay a substantial part of the costs of their education. Indeed, according to pie charts distributed by the North Dakota University System office, only UND students pay a higher share of their schools’ costs. Thus, we would appreciate your support of full state funding of compensation increases.

We also have asked the Legislature for funding of an overdue renovation of our Agriculture and Technical Education building, including its indoor arena. The state has not funded a full building project at DSU in over forty years.

Thank You: Though we are asking for additional support, the most important message is gratitude. Thank you for making it possible for our students to have wonderful opportunities at a reasonable cost. We literally could not do it without you!

Hawks are up!

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