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North Dakota legislators want control over college tuition rates

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BISMARCK - Higher education has become a "black hole" with an "unquenchable appetite for money," a legislator said Wednesday, arguing that's the reason tuition rates have spiked in the past 10 years.

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Lawmakers should take control of setting tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities, said Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, one of several sponsors of House Bill 1447.

"Setting tuition should be part of the Legislature's budgeting," said Rep. Larry Bellew, R-Minot, the bill's prime sponsor.

The two testified to the House Education Committee on Wednesday.

Dosch blamed the spending on flexibility the Legislature gave the state Board of Higher Education 10 years ago, claiming it has set off a "free-for-all."

He said he's grown tired of the board receiving record funding increases from the Legislature, only to turn around and also boost tuition. He said the board's request last year for a 56 percent funding increase from this year's Legislature was "unbelievable ... (and) clearly demonstrates that the board of higher ed is completely out of touch with reality."

Others supporting the bill were the North Dakota Taxpayers' Association, whose director, Dustin Gawrylow, said tuition has gone up nearly 120 percent since the late 1990s, and Bob Harms of Bismarck, a finalist for the next appointments to the state Board of Higher Education.

"It's unfortunate that the North Dakota Board of Higher Education insists that the only way they can hold the line on tuition is if they receive a $196 million increase in funding," Gawrylow said.

Harms said it needs to be remembered there are "three branches of government, not four."

North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz and the North Dakota Student Association testified against the bill.

Goetz said much of the board's budget request "does address the issue of student affordability." Tuition has gone up, he said, when the state funding is not "picking up its share."

He said the board's process of setting tuition and fees is not haphazard.

"It's a long and thoughtful process."

He also noted that critics' references to a proposed 50 percent increase in the system ignore the fact that much of the request is for one-time spending projects. The funding request for ongoing expenses is 22 percent, he said.

Goetz said that if HB 1447 passes and the Legislature takes over tuition setting, the process will become political.

The committee took no immediate action. It does not meet again until Monday.

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