Students gravitate to online courses, legislators talk higher ed facilities
VALLEY CITY, N.D.—Many students taking classes at colleges and universities in North Dakota are doing so online.
At the 11 North Dakota University System institutions, 47 percent of students take at least one distance course, which is defined as a class delivered via video, online, or other long distance instructional method.
In 2012, that number sat at 40 percent, according to information presented to the interim Legislative Higher Education Funding Committee.
In total, 69 percent of all NDUS students who take at least one distance course live in the state and 61 percent enrolled solely in distance courses are also North Dakota residents, Chief of Staff and Vice Chancellor for IT and Institutional Research Lisa Feldner said.
She added the data is murky because some schools record classes twice if delivered partly online and partly on campus.
"There's a perception distance courses are being taken by out-of-state residents and that's not the case," Feldner said.
A detailed cost analysis hasn't been done recently but NDUS Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan said some expenses for providing distance learning opportunities could include plagiarism services, online tutoring, test monitoring software, video services and other indirect administrative costs. Next steps include committee work on tuition rates, followed by a study of tuition waivers and distance education fees, which each university can set individually.
Dolan wants a minimal amount payable clause requiring the Legislature to fund at least 96 percent of each university's base budget from the previous biennium, which is calculated based on student credit hour completion, be reinstated before expiring in June 2017.
The university also hopes to establish a State Student Aid Advisory Board.
Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and Institutional Research Lisa Feldner asked lawmakers to consider funding a unified systems initiative creating a course catalogue, scheduling system and Blackboard, a course management system, that would cost an estimate of $300,000 after being paired with $2.9 million in existing funds.
"These numbers are just a guess," Feldner said.
NDUS Director of Facilities Planning Rick Tonder discussed facilities master plans at the 11 institutions and legislators applauding the board's decision to pass a motion in April in favor of removing facilities instead of repairing them when the cost to maintain them is more than 65 percent of the replacement value.
Tonder said historical significance would be taken into account but institutions are responsible for bringing the state of buildings before the board, which has the authority to authorize demolition.
"We know deferred maintenance is fairly extensive," he said. "On average it's above 50 percent across the system."
Tonder's presentation was the result of a 2014 study by a consulting firm that found NDUS schools were in need of $800 million in repairs, after which the board asked schools to prepare master plans.
UND's master plan identifies about a dozen buildings slated for closure, though none had been identified for demolition as of last month.
It would cost between $2 million and $3 million to tear down UND's old School of Medicine and Health Sciences building, which is being vacated for a new four-story complex. The building was built "like a bomb shelter," and therefore extremely sturdy whereas new technology buildings can have much shorter life spans due to the technology and mechanics that are built into them, Tonder said.
It's normal to see roughly a 35 percent deferred maintenance rate, he said, using the example of not replacing a light fixture that still works even if it's old.
"But a furnace, a heating system, you would replace," he said.
NDUS schools have asked the state Legislature through the SBHE to fund more building projects in recent years than in the past, according to a committee memorandum. Twelve higher education building projects went to the Legislature in the 2001-03 biennium and six were funded while 15 went to the Legislature in the 2015-17 biennium and seven were funded, excluding a system $8.7 million maintenance allotment.