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Latest budget would deepen higher ed reductions

In the face of continued budget reductions across the North Dakota University System, UND President Mark Kennedy said he will continue to promote UND while working to accommodate state funding cuts.

"We're going to keep making our case with the Senate, House and governor as best we can between now and April as to the value we can deliver to the state and its citizens," he said.

Kennedy and other UND representatives spoke to the merits of their university Monday in Bismarck before the Senate Appropriations Committee as part of a two days of testimony delivered by NDUS leaders.

The previous budget of Gov. Jack Dalrymple recommended a 15 percent reduction to higher education across the state system, though suggested 5 percent could be made up with tuition increases. By Jan. 5, state legislators had approved a revised budget forecast that made use of a less optimistic outlook on state revenues.

Gov. Doug Burgum announced his own budget recommendations Monday evening, proposing a total additional reduction of $159 million from Dalrymple's 2017-19 budget.

Burgum suggesting reductions to higher education be increased by $31 million, or 5 percent more than those recommended in Dalrymple's budget.

Burgum described that earlier budget in a release as a "good starting point," but stated the continued shortfall in state revenue had necessitated greater reductions. To make up for some of the cuts, Burgum proposed increasing funding for higher education challenge grants from $3 million to $10 million. The increased sum could produce $20 million in matching funds from private entities, the release stated.

The revised budget recommendations would also remove a proposed $25 million transfer from the state Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund to Valley City State University directed toward a new academic building.

"We need to think strategically during the next interim about how we deliver higher education to students through existing infrastructure," Burgum said.

Before the latest budget recommendations were announced, leaders in North Dakota higher education had spoken in support of the 15 percent level of reduction.

Kathleen Neset, chairwoman of the State Board of Higher Education, said the board supported Dalrymple's budget recommendations for the 2017-19 biennium released in December.

"We can be a leaner machine," Neset said.

Asked before the newest budget whether legislators would propose even larger cuts to higher education, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said "Probably yes."

"But I don't know the extent of it," he said.

In her presentation to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Neset said the board will continue to focus on student success and affordability within the current budget guidelines. She touted initiatives to make the cost of education more transparent and efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates.

Kennedy said UND will be prioritizing the "most productive" areas of campus while determining how reductions will be applied among faculty and staff. To that end, he said metrics such as credit hours taught, students graduated and research conducted will be taken into account. Kennedy said the level of staffing in each field will be taken into account, so as not to disadvantage smaller offices.

"We need to do more, not less of that," said Kennedy of the metrics. "We need to protect the core mission of the university, which is teaching, research and service, and those will be the criteria that we will be applying as we look at and evaluate the different units."

Kennedy added that Monday's visit to the Capitol was one of several he'd made so far this year.

"We'll continue to be here as much as necessary to speak to the good work being done by the faculty and staff of the University of North Dakota and the benefits it delivers to the state" he said.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers county, health and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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