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North Dakota University System faces lowest budget in a decade

MANDAN, N.D.—With potential cuts looming, the North Dakota University System may be working with funding levels last seen about a decade ago if 13 percent budget cuts are approved by the Legislature next year.

The State Board of Higher Education approved the system's needs-based budget request last week in Mandan during the board's regular meeting, which still has many steps before anything is finalized.

NDUS general fund appropriations increased from $533 million during the 2009-11 biennium, up to $737 million during the 2015-17 biennium, Tammy Dolan, vice chancellor for administrative affairs and chief financial officer, said Thursday. However that number dropped sharply during the last biennium to $614.3 million.

The appropriations are broken down into several parts, including money for financial aid and grants, core technology services, the system office itself and the institutions. A majority of the budget goes toward the institutions, with more than $508 million going to the institutions in the last budget cycle. During the 2015-17 biennium there was around $614.5 million in general fund appropriations going to NDUS institutions.

"Our institutions have done a marvelous job adapting and responding to that new budget level," Dolan said.

Dolan said they are not asking the Legislature or Office of Management and Budget to restore the original cuts.

Proposed budget guidelines from Gov. Doug Burgum include a 10 percent cut to higher education and other state agencies, as well as another 3 percent cut for potential contingency funds.

The 10 percent cut, if enacted, would reduce the overall NDUS appropriations to $565.8 million. A total 13 percent cut would reduce appropriations to $548.7 million. This would bring appropriations to levels seen in the 2009-11 biennium. The cuts still have to go through OMB, the governor's office and the Legislature.

Dolan said the governor's office excluded financial aid and grant programs from these potential cuts.

"The biggest difference we'll have from what OMB and the governor would expect is, in our needs-based budget we have not included the 10 percent base reduction," Dolan said. "We, through all of our discussions, just determined that because of the significance of the cuts that were already taken, the impact that another large cut would have on our ability to continue with educating students and operating, that that isn't something we could do at this time."

Dolan added that they do understand the state's budget situation and respect the governor and their position, adding however "for the good of higher education going forward we had to determine that we wouldn't be able to include" that cut in that area.

Dolan said that one area that will be critical for the system as a whole going forward is salary increases. The system and individual institutions were allowed to give salary increases this past biennium if they could find the funds themselves, however there were no salary increases built into the funding.

"As with any business, you need to be able to reward your good employees," Dolan said. "Our employees have been adapting and adjusting to those new levels. We've had a lot of staffing reductions, they have had to take on additional duties, work harder, work smarter."

Greg Stemen, vice chair of the SBHE, said it's important to look at any potential salary increases as a continuum over the course of time, rather than a snapshot because of the adjustments that have had to be made with the system since cuts were first enacted.

Board member and chair of the finance committee, Nick Hacker, noted that there are approximately 675 positions across the university systems as of the last biennium.

"Higher ed really got as skinny as I feel it could really get to," he said.

Dolan said current positions are funded by the general fund, tuition dollars and other revenues.

In general, Dolan said there have previously been discussions about whether or not to raise tuition in order to offset the proposed cuts. However, it would take a tuition increase between 4 percent and 13 percent each year to do so.

"That's a very significant number and that's without giving salary increases or doing anything new," she said. "That would have a significant effect on our students and that's not a direction we want it to go."

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott noted that there were no pay increases for NDUS presidents or his high-level staff as well during last biennium.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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