« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Associated Press, Published July 12 2012

Board of Higher Ed seeks 16 percent increase in spending, 30 hires in office

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education voted Thursday to ask lawmakers for a 16 percent spending increase over two years, 14 campus building and maintenance projects and 30 hires in the central office of new Chancellor Ham Shirvani.

The board’s wish list, approved during a meeting at Bismarck State College, includes almost $700 million in state general fund spending, as well as $146 million for campus building, renovation and maintenance work.

It includes $10 million for the University of North Dakota to offer research and degree programs in western North Dakota to help meet the needs of the booming oil industry.

Another $10 million would be earmarked to help western North Dakota’s public colleges, particularly Williston State College and Dickinson State University, deal with oil development problems.

The money could be spent, for example, on cost-of-living adjustments for college employees who have found themselves priced out of apartments, or on campus security improvements.

“The huge challenge that we’ve got is being able to have adequate compensation to retain folks, and be able to recruit new folks,” said D.C. Coston, the president of Dickinson State University. “That certainly would be a major priority for us.”

Williston State President Ray Nadolny described the $10 million proposal as “a great start.”

The board’s recommended building list includes projects on 10 of the state university system’s 11 public college campuses. Only Dickinson State does not have a project on the list.

It includes $38.5 million for an addition and renovations to the University of North Dakota’s medical school, $4.3 million for renovations to UND’s law school, $20 million in state funds for a proposed Bismarck State College communications and fine arts center, and a $12 million renovation of Williston State’s Stevens Hall, the campus’ primary classroom and administration building.

The Bismarck State College project is expected to cost more than $40 million. The recommendation says BSC must raise half of the cost elsewhere, possibly from private donors or Bismarck’s school district and city government.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple will review the board’s request and decide whether to include the board’s preferences in a two-year budget proposal that the governor will present to the Legislature in early December. Lawmakers will have the final say.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who watched the board’s budget deliberations Thursday, predicted they will face tough scrutiny by the Legislature, which begins its regular session in January.

Skarphol is chairman of a North Dakota House Appropriations subcommittee that helps to write the university system’s budget. He is also chairman of a legislative interim study committee that is reviewing potential new ways for the university system to draft its budget recommendations.

“The initial reaction is going to be, ‘What’s he talking about spending that kind of money for again?’ ” Skarphol said. “And then, with some further explanation, there is going to be at least some willingness to listen and some cautious movement.”

Skarphol predicted that Shirvani’s request to double the staff of the university system’s central office would face considerable resistance.

The office now has 26 staffers. Shirvani wants to boost that number to 56, including two new lawyers, six auditors and three compliance officers to ride herd on whether colleges are complying with university system policies.

Even with 56 employees, Shirvani said, the North Dakota university system’s central office staff would be smaller than those in Montana or South Dakota.

He argued that the new positions are needed to ensure North Dakota’s public colleges are run as a system, and said new personnel could help head off problems before they became serious.

For example, Dickinson State University’s lax degree-granting practices for Chinese students and haphazard criteria for cutting student tuition bills could have been avoided with more rigorous outside compliance with the North Dakota university system’s policies, Shirvani said.

“It’s not empire building or building big bureaucracy,” Shirvani said. “It’s just doing essential, bare minimum work.”