Board to take look at ND tuition rate plans

North Dakota Board of Higher Education to revisit tuition rate plans at state's 11 colleges

Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- The president of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education said Monday he's not sure if the group gave a fair hearing to plans on tuition increases and wants to revisit the idea.

The board approved a plan May 10 that would give colleges the option to raise tuition at various rates, from a low maximum level of 2.13 percent at Lake Region State College to a high maximum mark of 6.63 percent at Williston State. Board members said they liked the flexibility it offered the schools.

The plan passed by a 7-1 vote over another option favored by Chancellor Hamid Shirvani that would keep tuition hikes between 2.18 percent and 4.76 percent.

Board President Duaine Espegard, a retired banker, said Monday he had more time to crunch the numbers after the last meeting and decided it was worth more discussion. A special meeting scheduled Thursday at NDSU is meant to take a second look.

"Upon reflection, when I got home after that meeting, I think about this and say, 'Is that fair?'" Espegard said. "And because this stuff is kind of complicated, I'm not so sure everybody probably fully understood it. I didn't until I took another look."

The state Legislature approved a $900 million higher education budget — a nearly 12 percent increase over the last biennium — while sending a message to the board and university leaders to keep tuition costs down. But the funding does not cover nearly $32 million in inflationary costs, which could be covered under the approved plan if colleges max out their tuition limits.

The plan backed by Shirvani would require six of the 11 colleges to find cost savings to meet their budgets, leaving a shortfall of $3.3 million at the University of North Dakota and $2.4 million at North Dakota State University.

"We're not trying to cut anybody," Espegard said. "It's not about efficiency or anything like that. It's doing what's best for the students."

Administration officials from NDSU and UND declined to comment about the Thursday meeting.

Robbie Lauf, president of the NDSU student body, said Monday that he likes the idea of a 2.5 percent tuition cap, but not at the expense of jeopardizing on funding for a new equity model approved by the Legislature.

"You get to the point where you have to deal with reality," Lauf said. "If we have to spend equity dollars on something other than equity, what's the point?"

Tuition was scheduled for debate the morning of the May 10 meeting but was pushed into the afternoon after a long discussion about Shirvani's job performance that wasn't on the original agenda. Shirvani said the meeting became so stretched out that "I don't think I did a good job of explaining" his tuition model.

"I think we should do a little bit better at showing our goodwill and support for students and their families," Shirvani said. "Particularly when you consider that the student debt is very high. They are coming out with debt that is the cost of a house or mortgage. We should give the student a break."

Shirvani said her heard from "a lot of people," including lawmakers and parents of students, who were not happy about the tuition plan approved by the board. Lauf said he has heard no complaints and was surprised to find out about the special meeting.

"I guess I'm curious why they are bringing it up again," Lauf said. "I have been calling around and some board members were just as surprised as we were."

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