- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Board of Higher Education agreed Wednesday to a reduction in student fees at Williston State College, a change that will mean a small savings for attendees of the two-year school in the oil patch.

The board voted to cut the increase of mandatory fees by 50 percent beginning in the spring of 2016, a $75,000 rollback that’s expected to save each full-time student about $125 per year. The motion allows the college to decide where to cut.

Williston State raised its overall cost of tuition, room, board and fees by nearly 23 percent per student to about $15,000 this school year, which officials say was due in part to the skyrocketing cost of doing business in the oil patch and a 40 percent staff turnover. College officials also are worried about maintaining the school’s bond rating, which was recently downgraded, and beefing up its limited cash reserves.

“This is a challenging time in the western part of the state, if you’re following what is happening in the oil patch,” North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said during Wednesday’s meeting in Dickinson that was broadcast online. “It’s a very dynamic time to handle these issues, at the same time providing services for students and finding innovative ways to meet these needs.”

Hagerott said the board will need to talk at a future meeting about ways to find students affordable housing, which is at a premium in the oil patch.

Some lawmakers complained that the fee increase was an effort to sidestep their plans to make college more affordable. Hagerott said that it was not an effort to circumvent the legislature but that he believes system officials should do a better job of communicating with lawmakers.

“I know there were attempts but it was a pretty busy springtime and the legislators are trying to do 80 million different things,” Hagerott said. “So in the future, this clearly will be something that will be an information brief to them. They don’t need to appropriate money necessarily, or take action, but we let them know, this is what’s happening so if they have any questions early on they can be answered.”

Board members urged the college to include students in the decision-making about fees because they might not mind paying for certain services.

Not all the news is bad for Williston State. Laura Glatt, who’s in her last week as the university system’s chancellor of administrative affairs, noted improvement in the financial report used by an accrediting group for the school, due in large part to the college’s successful private foundation.

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