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State should raise tuition before cutting further, UND President Mark Kennedy says

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Mark Kennedy2 / 2

BISMARCK—UND President Mark Kennedy suggested Monday that North Dakota lawmakers should consider raising tuition rates for state residents before issuing any further budget cuts to higher education.

Kennedy testified as part of a UND delegation joined by leaders from across the North Dakota University System sent to address a division of the House Appropriations Committee in advance of a March 9 state budgetary forecast.

He said after the hearing that his statement took into account both last year's round of budget cuts and the potential for future cuts to come before the end of the ongoing legislative session.

"My advice to the committee is there's really no more room for expense cuts without harming the ... spirit of the enterprise," said Kennedy. "Everybody's stepping forward and making sacrifices, but there's a revenue forecast coming out in the next couple days and I just wanted to steer them away from thinking that further expense cuts are an option."

Kennedy was hopeful the forecast would "give us more room," but said he was trying to inform the committee of the "significant and deep cuts" that have already been planned for the UND campus where, that same day, university leaders had submitted proposals for campuswide budget reductions of 12 percent.

The NDUS is anticipating an even more substantial cut to begin the 2017-19 budget cycle as the state system continues down the tail-end of a budgetary spike.

According to a recent Legislative Council report, the general fund appropriations for the NDUS grew from $657.8 million to $910.6 million in the two-year funding periods between 2011 and 2015. That sum dropped to $837.8 million after cuts made during the current 2015-17 biennium.

Before the mid-session break, the Senate approved a higher education budget with $616.4 million in general fund spending. In order to make up some of the lost state appropriations, that budget allows institutions under the North Dakota Board of Higher Education to raise in-state tuition rates annually through the end of the 2018-19 academic year. However, the raises in tuition are limited to no more than 3 percent each year. An additional 1 percent bump is allowed to raise revenue for certain deferred maintenance purposes, though that additional raise comes with some additional funding requirements from the institution in question.

Tuition caps are not applied to either of UND's professional schools, nor its graduate programs.

Beyond the immediate question of caps, Kennedy said he's advocated lawmakers to leave tuition under the supervision of the SBHE as opposed to the Legislature. At the Monday hearing, Kennedy said rates at UND are priced below regional levels with a year of residential tuition pegged at a little more than $8,100.

He pointed to tuition rates at two Minnesota system schools—the flagship University of Minnesota-Twin Cities at more than $14,200 and University of Minnesota-Duluth with upwards of $13,000 —to illustrate the regional comparison.

"Our in-state is substantially below those two schools and we're still having North Dakotans go to UMD and UMN, so it's just affirmation that price is just one component to value," said Kennedy.

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education 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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