GRAND FORKS - The North Dakota University System saw a small bump in appropriations for the upcoming biennium, a move that delighted higher education officials across the state.

The North Dakota Legislature allotted the higher education system $648.7 million from the state’s general fund for ongoing operations. The appropriation, a 6% increase from the prior biennium, aligns with State Board of Higher Education’s needs-based budget request submitted prior to the legislative session.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed bills related to higher education funding last week.

“Higher education directly influences these learners as well as the workplaces that hire these workers,” NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott said in a statement. “We work toward the betterment of the entire state and legislators across the state see the benefits of higher education in their own communities.”

State Board chairman Don Morton said he also is happy with the system budget overall

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“We have a very good budget balance between capital and operating funds,” he said in a statement. “We are very happy and encouraged that our employees, who have had to pick up extra work, will now have a compensation package this biennium.”

System employees, as well as state employees across the state, will see a small boost in salary next biennium. Average salary will increase 2% in the first year of the biennium, with a minimum and maximum amount. The second year of the biennium employees will see a 2.5% boost. Additionally, state-funded health insurance will be fully funded for employees.

The university system says the budget will help ensure the state’s higher education environment remains strong, especially after a 17% budget reduction in 2017 that led to the elimination of almost 700 full-time positions across the state.

The general fund dollars account for only 25% of the NDUS’ total $2.55 billion operational budget, the system said in a news release. Another 25% comes from tuition dollars and 50% is funded with auxiliary revenues, state and federal grants, and other local revenue funds. The 2017-19 ongoing operational budget was $2.46 million.

Jed Shivers, vice president for finance and operations at the University of North Dakota, said he and many others at UND were concerned about the possibility of more cuts this coming biennium.

Shivers said the university was essentially at an “inflection point.” If the Legislature were to hand down more cuts it would place UND and the university system on a difficult trajectory or, if there were no cuts, the school would be able to move forward, Shivers said. He added that the university would have endured no matter what happened.

In addition to the higher education bill, the system also saw dollars from other areas, including $32 million for Valley City State University’s communications and fine arts building and $48 million for North Dakota State University’s Dunbar Hall. These projects were first approved by the 2015 Legislature, but funds were not available for them until this biennium. These projects were funded through Senate Bill 2297, which covered critical capital projects in the state.

The North Dakota National Guard tuition waiver was also increased from 25% to 35% of tuition costs at NDUS institutions.

UND is sitting well overall for its budget, Shivers said.

UND is looking to build a new, $70 million business school in the coming years. The university already has secured a $20 million pledge from an anonymous donor who said they would donate the money so long as the state matched their pledge.

The Legislature approved the $20 million match; however, in order to get that money the school has to have the remaining $30 million also pledged.

The higher education budget also included funds for the UND School of Law.

A change in the law school’s weighting factor in the higher education funding formula is estimated to bring in more than $2 million each biennium. Leaders on campus and on the State Board of Higher Education have said the additional funds are much needed to help the law school thrive.

The bill included up to $250,000 in match funding for the school. The law school would receive $1 for every $2 it raises for projects dedicated exclusively to clinical legal education, including indigent legal services, or the recruitment and retention of faculty at the school.

The Legislature also allowed the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences to make aspects of its residency program a part of the school’s ongoing operating expenses, rather than one-time funding every year.

Combined, the medical school and providers like Altru manage 193 slots for medical residents and fellows training in various specialties throughout the state. Of those 193, the UND SMHS is fully responsible for 155 resident slots. Residencies can take up to five years to complete and cost around $150,000 per resident student each year, Dean Joshua Wynne said in January.

Residency slots are funded through the Medicare program and are based on a cost report submitted by participating hospitals.

North Dakota also pays for additional residency slots in the state because funding those positions is directly related to increasing the distribution of physicians in North Dakota, especially in rural areas, according to an appropriations fact sheet from the school.

Those funds were coming through one-time funding each biennium, which led to some unknowns each year because the medical school would not know how many spots would be able to be filled with the appropriated dollars. Now, that money will become part of the school’s ongoing operating expenses, which adds stability, Shivers said.

UND also secured $1.5 million for its research network and IT upgrades, which is necessary for the school to be able to connect with research schools across the country.

While UND and NDSU did not secure money for their joint research bill, Shivers said he is happy to see the Energy and Environmental Research Center secure $5 million for exploratory research through Senate Bill 2249. The EERC is located on UND’s campus.

The bill puts 1% of oil and gas gross production tax and oil extraction tax revenues into the state energy research center fund every month - up to $5 million per biennium.

The Legislature approved House Bill 1333, which includes a $15 million innovation technology loan fund. Shivers said this could apply to research work done at the universities; however, the money is not directly for schools.

While UND was disappointed that $45 million in direct funds were not approved for an economic diversification research fund that would support work by UND and NDSU, Shivers said he is glad the conversation about research has gotten started in the state.