- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education approved a plan for tuition increases Thursday after most college presidents committed to caps that were equal to or lower than the maximums recommended by a board committee.

North Dakota State University and Dickinson State University were the only schools that requested the flexibility to raise tuition beyond the rates proposed by the board’s budget and finance committee. The budget approved by the board allows NDSU to raise tuition by 4.23 percent, beyond the 3.28 percent recommendation.

The change will give NDSU an additional $1.2 million a year. NDSU president Dean Bresciani told the board he finds it ironic that a state with a booming economy is talking about possible cuts to higher education and specifically at NDSU, one of the state’s two research institutions.

“NDSU is still recovering from a long-term tradition of underfunding, even though one could argue we’re one of the highest-performing institutions,” Bresciani said.

Dickinson State said it wants to consider a higher cap than the 3.97 percent mark set by the committee, but it’s unclear what that would be.

The board discussed three tuition proposals. The budget and finance committee plan essentially kept tuition caps at the same level they were a year ago. A plan labeled the cabinet proposal had higher caps that took into account a $3.5 million shortfall attributed to inflationary factors that were not figured into the Legislature’s budget.

In the end, the board agreed on cap proposals that the presidents themselves recommended and said schools must come to the board if they want to revisit the maximum levels that are part of the cabinet proposal.

“I think the students are not going to be hit hard through this,” said Kirsten Diederich, the board chairwoman.

Diederich, Terry Hjelmstad, Kari Reichert and Devin Hoffarth voted for the plan. Duaine Espegard, Grant Shaft and Kathleen Neset voted against it. Board member Don Morton left the meeting early to catch a plane and did not vote.

Espegard, Shaft and Neset favored the budget and finance committee proposal. Before that plan was rejected, Shaft said that any talk of losing employees or student services is a “bunch of hogwash.”

“I can guarantee board members that if we deviate from what has come out of the budget committee, the board is going to pay a heavy price,” he said. “And that price we pay keeps getting higher and higher in the sense that I would anticipate that in the coming session, if we can’t get our arms around tuition now, the Legislature is just going to go to the point where they’re going absolutely dictate what tuition is, and we’ll no longer have this decision to make.”

Reichert said the schools should be allowed flexibility to keep up with inflation and maintain quality, and that the board should save ideas on campus efficiency for another day.

“I think each of our presidents enjoys their jobs, wants their jobs and they’re not going to set tuition at a rate where they’re going to lose students,” Reichert said. “I think that’s a built-in incentive.”

Hoffarth, the student member on the board, supported the cabinet proposal.

“We don’t want the students to overpay, but I do agree that it’s ridiculous we are setting these from the committee meeting,” Hoffarth said. “There’s no way we are going to make efficiency with the $3.5 million that was not funded.”

Besides NDSU and Dickinson, tuition cap proposals by the presidents are 2.13 percent at Lake Region State, 2.42 percent at Dakota College at Bottineau and Bismarck State, 2.5 percent at Minot State, 3.28 percent at North Dakota State College of Science, 3.57 percent at Mayville State, 3.72 percent at the University of North Dakota, 3.9 percent at Valley City State, and 7.1 percent at Williston State.

The Williston cap is part of a two-year plan to raise the credit-hour tuition rate from about $100 to $115.

“That was to do some catch-up, because they’ve been considerably lower in the past,” Espegard said.

Students are getting at least one break in the budget passed Thursday. The costs for ConnectND, the statewide administrative computer system, have been reduced by $15, to $66 per semester.

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