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Lawmakers dig into upcoming higher ed budget request

VALLEY CITY, N.D.—Lawmakers had a lot of questions for North Dakota University System representatives at a meeting this week.

Lisa Feldner, the NDUS vice chancellor for information technology and institutional research presented rough data regarding administration, faculty and staff growth over the last decade at an interim Legislative Higher Education Funding Committee meeting Tuesday.

Lisa Feldner "Please don't hold the campuses to say 'This campus is bloated over here because of this,' " she said in a recording of the meeting obtained by the Herald. "It might not necessarily be the case ... and we may need some time to get the data more uniform."

Systemwide, the number of administrative positions, including presidents down through provosts, vice presidents, associate vice presidents, directors, chiefs of staff, deans and associate deans, has increased by 13 percent from 84 in 2005 to 95 in 2015.

Average salaries for those positions, calculated using Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System information, have increased between 51 and 132 percent, depending on the title.

At the same time, the number of faculty has decreased systemwide by 10 percent from 2,102 to 1,889. Average salaries have increased anywhere from 19 to 43 percent, depending on rank, except for those listed under "no academic rank," which decreased by 5 percent from 2005 to 2015. Feldner said she didn't know what "no academic rank" meant and would have to tell the committee at its next meeting.

Rep. Bob Martinson, a Republican committee member from Bismarck, said the committee should spend more time looking at the data.

"What does it mean and what do we do with it?" he said.

Feldner said the definitions of what an administrator or staff member is can vary from campus to campus. Student-to-employee ratios are also hard to explain, Feldner said, because universities can classify what is essentially the same employee under whatever division they choose, making it hard to compare.

"This is really our first brush with this data," she said.

Upcoming budget requests

University base budgets are funded based on student credit hour completion, a concept written into state law in 2013.

Based on that formula, the 2017-19 base budget for all 11 NDUS institutions would be $627.6 million, an increase of about $13.2 million or 2.1 percent from the previous biennium.

That increase, NDUS Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan said, is the "cost to continue," operations and while that term has factored in things like inflation and salary increases in past years, that is no longer the case.

Jack Dalrymple But Gov. Jack Dalrymple has asked all state agencies to reduce base budget requests by 10 percent, so Dolan said the system office decided to cut 10 percent from the per credit hour rate each university receives based on whether it's a two-year, four-year or doctoral institution.

After that cut, the NDUS base budget request would be $564.9 million, a $49.6 million decrease from the 2015-17 biennium.

This means UND would ask for a base budget of $212.9 million for the 2017-19 biennium, a 5 percent reduction of $11.7 million from the base budget of the previous biennium according to NDUS documents presented to the committee.

Dolan said salary increases and health insurance costs would be added in by the governor, as it is with all other state agencies, save for one exception of asking a minimum payable amount clause in the statute be reinstated, as it is set to expire June 30, 2017.

"We're not expecting to ask for any additional funding for the formula other than what's here, with one exception," Dolan said.

Martinson argued the clause defeats the purpose of the funding model and said it was a significant request and "might be difficult."

Dolan disagreed and said the clause is necessary, despite the fact that it was implemented on a biennium basis instead of on a year-to-year basis as the law stipulates.

"To me it's still the formula," Dolan said. "This gives the institutions that are decreasing in enrollment and funding time to react to the lower funding level so they can make adjustments in programs or staffing or whatever they need to do."

Dolan said if Dalrymple doesn't add in salary increases or health insurance costs, individual institutions would have to find the dollars to cover that from within their budgets.

She also said with the new reduced base budget mandate, some universities are considering not awarding salary increases next year.

"The oldest trick in the appropriations budgets process is to not include something you know we're going to include, so I would just tell you please don't try and balance your budget request on the backs of employees that deserve their raise because we will fund raises, but we might take out of some place you don't like," Martinson said. "I don't want to make that a threat I'll just tell you we will do that."

Dolan also asked that the model, which was put into place in the 2013 legislative session and tweaked during the 2015 session, be left alone for stability's sake.

Follow the links for data on:

Administrative count

Administrative mean annual salary

Faculty count

Faculty mean annual salary

Source: Brady Larson, North Dakota Legislative Council

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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