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Ryan Johnson, Published May 23 2013

North Dakota higher ed board lowers tuition caps

FARGO – Limits on tuition hikes at public universities and colleges in North Dakota will be even lower next year – less than 4 percent at both of the state’s two large universities.

In a meeting Thursday, members of the state Board of Higher Education voted to lower the tuition rate increase caps set for each campus two weeks ago.

During the board’s May 9 meeting, members voted 7-1 to approve a plan that set tuition increase maximums at each campus ranging from 2.13 percent at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake to 6.63 percent at Williston State College.

The caps were 4.9 percent at the University of North Dakota and 4.23 percent at NDSU.

Those rates earned the approval of campus presidents, with many saying at the time tuition increases would be necessary to cover a $32 million funding gap created when legislators reduced state funding to cover inflation for the next two years – despite a $900 million budget representing an 11.9 percent increase in ongoing funding.

Board President Duaine Espegard said Thursday he had since decided the board should revisit the decision. He said if presidents raised tuitions as high as the caps allowed, they would be covering the gap squarely on the backs of students.

“In other words, what we’ve done there is said students pick up all of the share – not only their share, but the part of the share that the Legislature did not fund,” he said.

Espegard also said the real funding gap was considerably smaller than

$32 million because of $22 million in one-time equity funding and $5 million in new performance funding that’s up for grabs.

His proposal approved Thursday dropped the caps so they now range from 2.18 percent at Lake Region State College to 4.76 percent at Williston State College.

At NDSU, the new cap is 3.28 percent. At UND, it’s 3.72 percent.

UND Student Body President Nick Creamer said tuition has jumped by 101 percent in the past 10 years at UND, while inflation costs only climbed by slightly more than 25 percent.

“It is really troublesome not knowing where that other 75 percent of revenues is going,” he said.

But student representative Sydney Hull said setting tuition caps was a “monumental decision,” and said he had heard from students on both sides of the issue. Some, he said, wanted to keep tuition low, while others said they would accept larger increases if it meant their school wouldn’t have to tap into the hard-fought equalization funding approved by lawmakers this spring.

But board member Kari Reichert questioned why the issue was coming up for discussion again after being approved just two weeks before, and said it was “inconsiderate” toward presidents who already started making their budgets.

Nonvoting staff representative Janice Hoffarth said not allowing presidents to raise tuition enough to cover the gap meant they’d have to cut services or use the equalization funding to make up the difference.

Reichert cast the lone vote against the lower caps.

Diederich, of Fargo, named SBHE president

FARGO – North Dakota’s embattled state Board of Higher Education will soon have a new president.

President Duaine Espegard motioned to elect current Vice President Kirsten Diederich as the next president for a one-year term beginning July 1. Espegard, who has led the board since last July, nominated Terry Hjelmstad for vice president.

There was no further discussion, and no other nominations were made. The board voted unanimously to elect Diederich and Hjelmstad.

Next month, the board is expected to review a performance evaluation of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani prompted by concerns about his leadership.

Aquatic center survives challenge by board

FARGO – The state Board of Higher Education on Thursday shot down a motion to rescind approval of North Dakota State University increasing student fees to start paying for an

$11 million aquatic center not yet approved by state lawmakers.

The board considered rescinding its May 9 approval for NDSU to begin collecting a new student fee for the aquatic center addition to the Wallman Wellness Center, pending legislative approval in 2015.

Board President Duaine Espegard said he didn’t have a problem with the concept, but he was concerned with setting a precedent of collecting money before the facility would open.

NDSU Student Body President Robert Lauf said it was a “hypocritical” action after about 18 percent of the student body voted on the plan in April, with 60 percent of voters backing the project.

Espegard’s motion to rescind the prior approval failed 3-5. Espegard, Kathleen Neset and Grant Shaft voted in favor.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587