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NDSU could face enrollment drop this fall

The North Dakota State University campus. Forum file photo

FARGO — North Dakota State University is facing a possible enrollment drop "in the range of 300" students as it approaches the fall semester — a decline that could come with significant budgetary consequences.

If enrollment, which last fall was 14,432, drops by 300 this fall, the associated revenue reduction would be $2.6 million, according to Bruce Bollinger, NDSU's vice president for finance and administration.

"I've heard they could be down in the range of 300," he said, referring to early forecasts of fall enrollment, a barometer that university administrators watch closely. "NDSU in the past has been holding steady."

Although classes begin Aug. 20, enrollment figures don't become official until the third week of the semester, so the financial impact won't be clear until then, Bollinger said.

"We're really early," he added. "We're all working hard to try to maintain and raise enrollment." Of course, he said, other colleges and universities are doing the same thing. In fact, aggressive recruiting by rival schools in Minnesota might be one factor, Bollinger said.

NDSU also faces a loss of revenue from a decline in student credit hours, an important component of its state funding, of $1.8 million, he said. If the two adverse trends hit with full force, the combined revenue reduction could be around $4.4 million.

"It's so early now and it's difficult to estimate a lot of these variables," Bollinger said.

Fall enrollment at NDSU has been above 14,000 for eight years, beginning in 2009, but has declined since peaking at 14,747 in 2014.

President Dean Bresciani announced in 2015 the goal of reaching an enrollment of 18,000, one of three goals he outlined to elevate the university, and an objective he thought could be reached within five years.

But then North Dakota's revenues plunged, resulting in two rounds of steep budget cuts, with the likelihood of further reductions in the next two-year budget.

Are budget cuts causing concern among prospective students, making recruiting more challenging?

"I've heard that," Bollinger said. "Everybody you talk to has a different idea on that."

NDSU administrators are drafting contingency plans to deal with budget shortfalls. "It's an evolving plan," he said. "We're constantly trying to evaluate our efficiencies."

The North Dakota University System requires its 11 campuses to carry a reserve fund of 5 percent to 7 percent of the previous fiscal year's general fund and net tuition revenue. NDSU's reserve now is $12.3 million, according to university figures.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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