- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota University System is expected to approve this week a legislative budget request for a 12.5 percent increase in funding over the next two years.

A large part of the $764 million base request - $85 million more than what the system received from the state last year - comes from a new higher education funding model for North Dakota’s 11 colleges and universities approved during the 2013 legislative session.

System Chancellor Larry Skogen said the request, which also calls for $49 million more for operating funding as determined by the new model, is likely to be approved at the Board of Higher Education’s monthly meeting Thursday.

The system wants to make several improvements at the state’s campuses, such as providing around-the-clock security at a cost of $2.4 million every two years as well as a one-time $8.3 million request.

“That’s a growing need,” Skogen said.

Apart from base funding, the system also has requested about $600,000 to freeze tuition at two-year institutions for fiscal year 2015. A report released in January by the state Board of Higher Education found those schools were 8.6 percent more expensive than their regional counterparts, and board members have said they would like to see more affordable tuition for two-year schools.

An additional $2.3 million would be needed to freeze the schools’ tuition for the entire biennium.

While higher education has benefited from the state’s strong economy in recent years, Skogen said, the system’s budget has decreased each biennium since 2001, when its share was about 21 percent. In 2013, the system received 13 percent of the state’s budget.

“We’ve got our naysayers out there that say that we’ve grown way too fast and too much,” Skogen said. “I think the numbers bear out that higher education has been keeping up with the rest of the state, but we haven’t shot past everybody else in the state.”

Sen. Dwight Cook, a Republican from Mandan who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, said Friday he hadn’t seen the budget request yet but that he thinks the state’s higher education system have lost sight of its original goal - focusing on growing local economies instead of providing an affordable education.

“I think that’s what’s creating this appetite for a lot of money,” he said. “I just think we need to get refocused on the quality of education and making it affordable.”

The new higher education funding model, which went into effect last year, funds schools based on the number of credits completed, rather than relying on past payments and student enrollments. It allows schools to predict how much they’ll receive each year and legislators to get a more transparent look at spending - two things both groups had struggled with in the past.

Other notable budget requests include $77,000 for system-wide mental health support for students, including after-hour crisis intervention, and $500,000 for petroleum engineering equipment at the University of North Dakota, which has recently announced it will offer a degree program in that field of study.

The university system also wants $1.8 million to hire more staff for an internal audit office.

The Board of Higher Education will meet Thursday in Grand Forks to vote on the final request, which will then be sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

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