- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 14, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Despite a tough budget situation for the next two years, there are brighter days ahead for funding the state’s 11 colleges and universities, the leader of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education said Wednesday.

Outgoing Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget proposal slashes higher education spending by 15 percent, though 5 percent could be restored through 2.5 percent tuition increases annually over the next two years. The latest cuts would take more than $25 million from the institutions themselves and more than $8 million for the university system office, leaving the system with about $650 million for the next two years.

Board chairwoman Kathleen Neset, of Tioga, said at the monthly meeting that if higher education can weather the next two years, a better outlook is ahead.

“I do believe, as so much of this is energy-related, I’m going to take the step that we may be going through our roughest time right now,” said Neset, who is president of an oilfield consulting service. “This will be a difficult budget and legislative session. We have a lot of things that are fluid, that are in movement.”

The proposed budget eliminates more than 300 full-time positions in higher education, though university system chief financial officer Tammy Dolan said much of that has already been accomplished through attrition and leaving positions vacant. The final number of jobs lost will be determined by the campuses once the final budgets are approved by the Legislature.

“We’ll work with what we have and do the best we can,” Dolan said.

Board members talked about a couple of items that were left out of the budget. One was replacing North Dakota State University’s Dunbar Hall, a chemistry building that’s more than a half-century old and ranks second on the university system’s list of safety priorities. The building has poor ventilation for handling dangerous chemicals and a fire system that is outdated for the types of chemicals used in experiments.

Board member Don Morton, of Fargo, said the board should work with NDSU to find out if there’s a way to finance a new building, estimated at $49 million.

“It’s the major research building on the NDSU campus housing a lot of expensive equipment,” Morton said. “This is a very serious problem and we are the ones that will be held accountable if something goes wrong.”

Another budget casualty was a $7 million workforce initiative at the University of North Dakota medical school meant to expand class sizes and residencies.

“That is going to need some additional analysis on what that impact would be to the medical school,” Dolan said.

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