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By TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published March 18 2013

ND lawmakers ask for more information from university system

BISMARCK – State lawmakers want to see consistency in the information they receive from the North Dakota University System every year.

Under Senate Bill 2032, the university system would be required to report specific information regarding resident and nonresident students in its annual Performance and Accountability report issued every December.

The bill asks that the report include information from each of the system’s 11 public institutions, regarding student retention rates, grade point average, and number of degrees awarded, among others.

Brady Larson, of the Legislative Council, said the Legislature enacted a law in 1989 requiring the University System to provide the report, but the law didn’t specify what was to be included.

In following years, the Legislature proceeded to pass a series of measures between 2001 and 2009 clarifying what they wanted included in the report, but those measures didn’t include consistent requests for information.

The 2012 interim Higher Education Committee, who recommended the bill, decided it would be better to include provisions in state law to help with consistency.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, who chaired the interim committee, said a secret to higher education is understanding the terminology and information, and being able to apply it properly.

Just down the hall, University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani told House Appropriators a lack of consistency of information has caused some of the problems the system currently has, and will be a larger problem in the future unless something is done.

To help address the problems, he asked the House Appropriations Education subcommittee, in his hearing over the system’s budget, to reinstate the $3 million that was cut from the governor’s proposed budget for seven new system employees, saying they are needed to address the data problems.

“There has been no consistency in information that comes out of the system, and that’s what I’m trying to build,” he said.

“Campuses operate differently and use different models, we spend a lot of time trying to make information consistent with each other.”

Shirvani originally asked for 30 new full time equivalent positions, but Gov. Jack Dalrymple included funding for seven, which was stripped out by the Senate Appropriations Committee who felt they weren’t needed. There was $1.3 million added into the university system budget that could be used for salaries.

But a February state auditor’s report found the university system was understaffed and needed help with it’s auditing process.

“Some of these things are essential elements of building a system,” Shirvani said. “I’m pleased someone externally has come and studied and identified the issue.”

The report recommended the system obtain the necessary resources to adequately perform the functions and duties of the office, including an internal auditing function and centralization of auditing or legal staff.

Skarphol said the state auditor’s report should have helped legislators see there is some legitimacy to what the chancellor is asking for.

“It’s becoming more obvious to legislators to have a better understanding and more information than we have had in the past,” he said.