A bill introduced by Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, seeks to bolster the workforce in North Dakota, while giving students a break on tuition costs.
Senate Bill 2334 would create a senior year tuition waiver program that would waive tuition for students in their last year of college who are majoring in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Students enrolled in a two-year institution would be eligible for the waiver if they are pursuing a degree or certificate in a technology field or a skilled trade.
Students would receive their senior year of tuition free only if they remain employed in North Dakota for at least three years after graduation. If students do not fulfill this requirement, then they are required to repay the full amount of the tuition waiver.
UND Student Body President Erik Hanson, who helped Kreun craft the bill, said the state is in need of people in STEM fields to fill jobs vital for the state's economy.
"We've got jobs, we've got infrastructure, and now we just need the people," Hanson said. "So if this can be one way to attract students to stay then that's kind of what we're looking at."
As currently proposed, the Bank of North Dakota would reimburse the colleges for the sum of the tuition waivers through the State Board of Higher Education.
The amount of the waiver would equal the tuition a student would typically pay for courses, minus any scholarships, grants or other waivers the student has already received.
While the bill would limit the tuition waivers to STEM students for now, Hanson said he is open to adding more industries to the list. However, STEM jobs are needed in North Dakota to help in the Oil Patch and other parts of the state.
"It's not just what we need right now, but if we're going to get to the point where North Dakota wants to be as a leader in some of these areas we're going to need to keep growing that need as well, which means we need to add to that supply now," he said.
A similar program already exists at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Kreun said. While the program is different from his proposal, Kreun said the tuition waiver program at SMHS still entices people to come to UND and stay in North Dakota.
Kreun said his bill has a similar goal, to keep graduates in North Dakota and contribute to the state's workforce.
"It seems to be working (at the medical school), so if we can entice individuals out of those other areas that would be great," Kreun said.
The bill also aims to attract students to attend North Dakota universities, which could help increase enrollments across the North Dakota University System, whether on campus or online, Kreun said.
The waiver program could make staying in North Dakota more attractive to students who are looking for jobs in places like the Twin Cities, Hanson said. While the graduates could see a higher salary there, the cost of living is also higher, so the impact of a tuition waiver could help "even the playing field" for students, he said.
"That makes staying in North Dakota attractive, even with a lower starting salary than what you'd see in like a Minneapolis-area," Hanson said.
Cosponsors on the bill include: Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, Rep. Jake Blum, R-Grand Forks, Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo and Rep. Cynthia Schreiber Beck, R-Wahpeton.