If Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget guidelines for the North Dakota University System were to go through unchanged, it could cause another set of deep cuts for higher education in the state.
Tammy Dolan, NDUS chief financial officer and a vice chancellor, noted that the governor’s guidelines are just that – guidelines, not recommendations, at this time. What the system budget could look like next biennium won't be fully clear until December. But if the governor's guidelines were to go through without adjustment, it could have a negative impact on the system, which has sustained cuts in recent bienniums.
“We understand the state’s funding situation right now. There are a lot of questions to that but we don’t feel that it would be in the best interest of higher-ed right now to take another cut,” she said.
The university system is in the process of preparing its budget request for the State Board of Higher Education’s approval next week. Dolan said the system is planning to present a budget to the board without cuts at this time.
“Our position right now is that we can’t afford to have another cut,” she said, adding the system will work with the governor and the Legislature on whatever they are ultimately appropriated next spring.
In May, Burgum asked the state’s 11 higher-ed campuses to plan budgets that rely on a 10% reduction in funding formula payments. The reduction does not have to equal a 10% budget reduction if institutions can find other revenues.
The governor’s guidelines would cut the system’s budget by around $63 million, which would bring the total budget to about $574.7 million. That number is below where the system’s budget was for the 2011-13 biennium.
“It would have significant impacts on the university system and how the institutions operate,” she said.
Noting the estimates were fairly rough, the governor's budget guidelines could result in a reduction of more than 300 jobs across the system. In order to cover the governor’s budget guidelines reductions, annual tuition – assuming enrollment stays steady – would have to go up significantly, in one case up nearly 13%. It's something Dolan said the system is not willing to do.
“We can't just put it on the backs of the students,” she said. “It would affect enrollment. It's got to be affordable. College needs to be affordable.”
As it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic and a fluctuation in oil prices, North Dakota’s budget outlook is volatile. Another revenue forecast should be out later this summer and then again in the fall, Dolan noted. The pandemic also is a complicating factor for institutions because it may affect fall enrollment.
“(The pandemic) could be positive or it could be negative – we just don't know,” Dolan said. “That's one thing that definitely added to the complications of putting together a budget request right now. There are so many unknowns.”