- Associated Press - Thursday, June 26, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Board of Higher Education approved its two-year budget request Thursday that asks for a nearly 14 percent increase in funding and to freeze tuition at the state’s 11 colleges and universities from 2015 to 2017.

A large part of the $774 million base request - $94 million more than what the system received from the state last year - comes from a new higher education funding model for North Dakota’s colleges and universities approved during the 2013 legislative session. The model’s new formula calls for $49 million more for operating funding.

Interim System Chancellor Larry Skogen said the board’s request and tuition freeze are the right moves to benefit college students in the state.

“I think it’s a wise, wise decision on the board’s part because affordability is an issue,” Skogen said Thursday in a phone interview.

Board members said Thursday at the meeting in Grand Forks that they will freeze tuition for the next two-year cycle only if the state agrees to fully fund the base budget as well as the salary and benefit increases for employees.

Skogen said the move to request an across-the-board tuition freeze came up only a few days before the meeting. A budget request passed last week by the finance committee didn’t include the additional $9.5 million, which is what students would have to cover without a freeze.

Board member Duane Espegard said the system has never frozen tuition for all schools at once.

“This is one way in which we can help (students) to keep affordability, to keep their debts down and probably help enrollment and just a number of things,” he said.

The board has frozen tuition for the past four of six years for two-year schools in the state in effort to bring tuition down closer to their regional competitors. Skogen said Thursday that six years ago two-year schools had 22 percent higher tuition their regional counterparts. A report released in January by the state Board of Higher Education found those schools were now only 8.6 percent more expensive.

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.

The $49 million in this year’s request is to account for the higher number of credits taken at the state’s colleges and universities.

Other notable budget items 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, which Skogen said they have asked for several times in the past to no avail.

The budget request passed Thursday will be sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

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