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NDSU seeks 8.8 percent tuition boost

Dean Bresciani, NDSU president

FARGO - North Dakota State University will make its case on Monday for an 8.8 percent tuition increase, the only state university to deviate from a 2.5 percent cap.

President Dean Bresciani told a subcommittee of the state Board of Higher Education Thursday that without the increase, NDSU would have to cut core academic programs.

State funding for NDSU has not kept pace with the university's unprecedented enrollment growth, and NDSU has been in a pattern of making cuts for 10 years, Bresciani said.

"It's reached a critical point for NDSU," Bresciani said. "We have nothing left to cut."

Raising tuition by 8.8 percent rather than 2.5 percent will generate an additional $4.1 million for NDSU.

The committee did not take action on the proposal and asked NDSU to bring additional information Monday when the full board meets in Bismarck.

Chancellor Bill Goetz proposes to freeze tuition at all North Dakota two-year campuses and cap increases at 2.5 percent for the state's universities. That is consistent with what Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed in his budget.

However, the Legislature did not fully fund Dalrymple's budget proposal. Legislators combined funding for equity and college affordability and reduced the total by $1.4 million.

Board member Jon Backes of Minot said the tuition caps are unfunded mandates for the campuses.

"We're telling them that you've got to go back and find this money in your budgets because we're not going to give you the opportunity to raise revenue and there is no more state revenue," Backes said.

The tuition cap is more problematic for NDSU because it has been underfunded for years, Bresciani said.

According to figures prepared by the Legislative Council, NDSU received about $16 million less than the University of North Dakota during the 2009-11 biennium in the general fund budget, not including UND's School of Medicine and Health Sciences. NDSU served the equivalent of 4,000 more full-time students that biennium than UND did.

Other comparisons show NDSU is the only campus in the university system to receive less than 50 percent of funding than its so-called peers. That would stay the same even with the 8.8 percent increase, officials said.

Bresciani said the 8.8 percent increase sounds like a lot when compared to the cap of 2.5 percent. But in reality, NDSU tuition has increased an average of 8.15 percent over the past decade, he said.

Backes said a 2.5 percent tuition increase can be explained to parents, but 8.8 percent would be difficult.

"The overwhelming number of parents that talk to me about tuition say tuition is out of control," Backes said.

Cam Knutson, NDSU's student body president, said he supports the tuition proposal and called the university's financial situation "unfortunate and extremely unfair."

"Students will not tolerate any sort of cutbacks to critical programs and services or decreases to our quality of education," Knutson said. "NDSU has come too far in the last decade to now be forced to take a step backwards."

Faculty and staff also support it, Bresciani said. They have been asked to do more with less as the funding hasn't kept pace with the university's growth, he said.

"The only way that our campus community would be more upset would be is if this gets turned down," Bresciani said.

Board member Duaine Espegard of Grand Forks said he believes legislative intent was to limit tuition increases, but that doesn't mean the board won't consider extenuating circumstances.

"This has to look like a crisis, which it is, to me," Espegard said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590