- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A member of the state Board of Higher Education said Thursday he’s mulling over a proposal that would refund money to Williston State College students who saw their mandatory fees shoot up by nearly 60 percent for this school year.

Some lawmakers were surprised to learn that the two-year college in the North Dakota oil patch raised its overall cost of tuition, room, board and fees by nearly $15,000 this school year, after a session in which some legislators complained about the way the university system was managing its money.

School officials say they have to pay for an increase in staff salaries and the high costs of construction and maintenance in the region.

Board member Don Morton told the group Thursday during a meeting in Williston that he plans to propose a motion later this month to reduce fees for the spring semester and possibly refund them for the fall semester, depending on the opinion of an accounting firm.

“We want people to know that we are cognizant of the issue and it is being thoughtfully looked at,” Morton said.

Morton’s plan came after University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said he planned to arrange a meeting with system office staff and Williston State President Ray Nadolny “to have separate sets of eyes look at all the books and the numbers” regarding school costs. Hagerott called it a “dynamic situation” because the school is trying to maintain its bond rating in an area where everything costs more.

Hagerott said some lawmakers, who earlier this year approved a 2.5 percent cap on tuition increases, are upset and “don’t want to give the perception that in fact it was a way to circumvent that and just raise the fees.”

Williston State has tried to keep its costs down and at one point did not raise tuition for five years, Nadolny told the board. The college in 2013 had $30,000 in its bank account and a payroll of $250,000, he said, and has worked its way to becoming fiscally solvent.

Morton told The Associated Press after the meeting that it’s tricky because Williston State, like other colleges, depends on bonding in order to keep the cost of borrowing down.

“Otherwise it really gets expensive and the students end up paying that,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into the whole fee structure that’s very detailed and it’s something that the public has a hard time digesting.”

Morton said Hagerott needs time to “analyze the situation, talk to all the right parties, and then come up with the solution that works for everyone.”

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