- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Legislature is blamed for soaring tuition costs at the state’s 11 public colleges and universities so it may as well set them, a Republican lawmaker says.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, is sponsoring the measure that would strip the State Board of Higher Education’s authority to set tuition and fees, and instead hand the task over to the Legislature.

“It’s no secret that the people of North Dakota are alarmed at the cost of higher education,” Koppelman told the House Education Committee Wednesday. “The Legislature is often blamed for skyrocketing tuition but in recent years has done little to control it.”

Larry Skogen, the university system’s interim chancellor, spoke against the proposal, saying that allowing the Legislature to set tuition and fees “could greatly limit student input” and would create “another level of complexity and bureaucracy to an already complex process.”

Koppelman said his proposal would help keep tuition costs under control and more affordable for college students.

The committee did not act on the legislation Wednesday. It also is sponsored by a dozen other Republican lawmakers, many of whom have colleges in their districts.

North Dakota’s university system has six four-year universities, and two-year colleges at Bismarck, Bottineau, Devils Lake, Wahpeton and Williston. The system has a two-year budget of more than $1 billion.

Tuition expenses in North Dakota’s university system have risen steeply for more than a decade. At North Dakota State University, for example, the current bill for tuition is $6,604 annually, compared with $3,982 during the 2004-05 school year. Tuition for the 1994-95 school year was $2,110, data show.

Many North Dakota lawmakers - both Republicans and Democrats - remain angry about an 8.8 percent tuition jump at NSDU in 2011, the sharpest increase by far among the state’s public colleges in recent years. Lawmakers had pushed for a 2.5 percent cap, but school officials argued the higher increase was necessary to prevent the potential elimination of academic programs.

The eight-member Board of Higher Education, which has a voting student representative, ultimately approved the increase.

Skogen told the legislative committee that he knows that increase has “caused the most consternation for you and your colleagues,” but it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, because NDSU kept tuition flat the following year.

“Had this increase been spread out over a two-year period, the increase would have been 4.4 percent, perhaps a more palatable approach,” Skogen said.

John Richman, president of the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, also opposed allowing the Legislature to set tuition rates and other fees at colleges.

“Do you really want to set parking fees on 11 different campuses?” he said.

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