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Cali Owings, Published November 14 2013

NDSU student leaders voice concerns with local lawmakers

FARGO – North Dakota State University student leaders had the ears of several local lawmakers during a luncheon Thursday.

NDSU student government hosts “Higher Education Day” to give students an opportunity to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with policymakers and discuss concerns.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, chairman of the interim higher education funding committee, said it’s valuable for lawmakers to take the time to hear about the status of their investments and identify ongoing needs and challenges.

He said relationships with students are a resource in decision-making.

“We want to make sure we don’t have misconceptions about what they want and what their thoughts are,” Flakoll said.

Students took the opportunity to cover a laundry list of issues from college affordability to future campus projects.

Affordability

Students said their primary concern is college affordability.

“With as fast as the economy is growing in our state, we need to continue to support scholarship programs, curb these costs and continue to keep tuition as low as possible,” said Robert Kringler, a student government commissioner.

He said students favor modeling a program after one in Texas that allocates a portion of oil tax revenue to higher education. The fund could be used to offset tuition increases and fund building projects.

‘Elephant in the room’

Student leaders are also concerned they will lose their ability to contribute to policymaking and system governance if voters decide to replace the state Board of Higher Education with a three-member commission next fall.

“It’s kind of an elephant in the room,” Kringler said.

One student is now appointed to the state board to serve a yearlong term. Having a voting student member, who has “as much say as the president or any other board member,” is a powerful tool for students, he said.

Infrastructure

Before giving an update on the $29.6 million academic building known as the STEM Building for its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math – which the Legislature approved earlier this year – Kringler offered a list of needed infrastructure improvements on campus that will likely appear on future capital requests.

Kringler pointed to the Ladd/Dunbar Hall Complex, which houses the chemistry and biochemistry departments, as an area of concern because of safety issues and outdated labs that limit research.

The pharmacy and engineering buildings have similar issues and face losing accreditation, he said.

He also mentioned the proposed student aquatic center. Students approved increasing student fees by $113 to fund the addition of recreational and competitive swimming pools to the school’s wellness center. The project was approved by the state board, which also needs to seek legislative approval in the upcoming session.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599