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Published May 19 2012

Ask Your Government: No easy answer to college funding question

Dear Teri,

I continue to hear that NDSU receives less state aid per student than UND receives. If true, why?

Ken Reid

Valley City

Thanks for writing! I contacted a few people about this and found this to be a complex issue. Here’s what Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said:

“The simple answer is the statement can be either true or false, depending upon your agenda. Selective research allows anyone to persuasively argue either way. Misleading without lying.

“Keep in mind, the amount of funding available to a campus includes much more than just state aid. It includes tuition, fees and internal campus funding decisions, among others.

“Lack of available data is a major reason for the difficultly of having an apples-to-apples comparison between UND and NDSU. The two schools are structured very differently. NDSU is a land grant university, which includes agriculture research, extension and experiment stations.

“UND is a comprehensive research university with a medical school. The internal composition of each is different. For example, while the medical school has a separate budget, many of the functions of the school are supported within the general appropriation of UND.

“At NDSU, there are numerous examples of the same kind of interplay between its agriculture function and traditional university function.

“Can you find data to prove that NDSU receives less funding than UND? Absolutely. Reverse the question and the answer is the same.

“One of the most often used statistical models involves taking NDSU’s income – excluding the tens of millions of dollars received because of its status as a land grant institution ($90 million general fund dollars in the current biennium) – and comparing it to the income of UND – including the tens of millions of dollars coming to UND through the medical school – divided by the number of students.

“The result, often used to prove that NDSU receives much less than UND in funding, is not a lie, but it is also misleading.

“In addition, is it legitimate to look at decisions made on the campuses, which impact the amount of money available for the operation of the school? Legislators find it curious that NDSU says it is starving for cash yet provides over

$15 million in tuition waivers per year, almost twice that of UND.

“Because of the differences between these two schools, we may never be able have a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, but we need to do better. The Board of Higher Education and Legislature need to work together to assure that we make the differences between the two research universities more understandable and transparent to the citizens of North Dakota.”

I also talked to Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, who is vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations Education and Environment Division. Here’s what she said:

“One of the major things I would say is that this is not a contest between UND and NDSU.

“The bottom line is how do we fund the universities, and the fact is UND gets a lot more per student than NDSU ... There are a lot of factors, I think, that have over the years caused us to be in the spot that we are.”

These include how well university presidents lobbied the Legislature in the past, peer institution funding comparisons and efforts to treat the system’s 11 campuses equally despite their differences, she said.

“Really, I think it has been one thing happening on top of another thing that has not allowed NDSU to catch up,” she said.

NDSU is a major research university that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math fields and needs to be treated as such, Hawken said.

“That’s what we say we want. You’ve got to fund it. It costs more,” she said.

However, the funding also should not be a fight between NDSU and UND, she said.

“They complement each other, and we need to see them grow because, if they grow, so does our state,” she said.

I also contacted Laura Glatt, vice chancellor for administrative affairs for the North Dakota University System. Here’s some of what she said:

“The state Board of Higher Education, along with the assistance of the governor and Legislature, have been addressing the issue of funding ‘equity’ for the past 10 years.”

“In fact, since 2001-03, the North Dakota University System has received almost

$37 million in funding for equity, with over

$15 million or 42 percent of the total distributed to NDSU.

“The governor’s office, working in consultation with the North Dakota University System and others, is developing a new funding model for higher education. I anticipate this model will continue to remedy funding differences, as identified.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

Email politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

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Teri Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.