North Dakota’s bonding bill is months away from being finalized, but the current legislation gives millions of dollars to career and technical education and other higher-ed related projects, including dollars for UND’s space-related work.
House Bill 1431, which includes nearly $800 million for infrastructure projects, had its first hearing on Monday, Feb. 1. Included in that new bill is $4 million dollars for UND for a space command initiative and related technical programs, which would include money for equipment, renovation and a sensitive compartmental information facility, according to the bill.
UND President Andrew Armacost said national security, whether it's related to research or educational programs, has always been of interest to the university. In recent months, that interest has included potential partnerships related to space security.
Since September 2019, four space officials have visited campus, including NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, U.S. Space Command Commander Gen. James Dickinson and Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, chief of space operations for the U.S. Space Force. The latest visit was from the Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear on Wednesday, Oct. 14.
“When they saw what we have on campus with our space studies program, our UAS program and other engineering programs, they immediately saw a connection between what we can offer and what they need,” Armacost said.
He added that leaders from SDA were looking at two main areas: workforce development, or how students can be better educated to help these growing space-related organizations, and research and development.
This fall, Armacost said he one day hoped to launch satellites from Grand Forks, noting at the time that it was a dream and maybe a bit hyperbolic, but still he hopes that one day UND will be doing research, development and other work for organizations such as the U.S. Space Force and Space Command.
As the legislative session approached, Armacost said UND began having conversations about how UND can play a role with those organizations. As those conversations took shape, Armacost said there was interest in potentially funding that type of activity.
While there’s no current contracts between UND and U.S. Space Force or the U.S. Space Command, Armacost noted there are several proposals being put forth by the Space Force, including a university-affiliated research center.
Getting state funding for this type of work could help UND attract new students for its space studies program and also attract new research to the campus, he said.
Armacost noted that there is a long way to go and whether UND will ultimately receive that funding remains to be seen.
“The reality is, there's a lot of funding requests and, while I'm hopeful that we’ll get the support, I have no idea of the likelihood,” he said. “That's really the legislative process. They do a great job of sorting through the needs of the state and making the decisions about where the state's precious funding needs to go.”
Also included in the bonding bill is dollars for career and technical education, including up to $27 million for Bismarck State’s polytechnic program, including multipurpose classrooms and space for an auditorium or theater. There’s also dollars for career and technical education programs in cities across the state including:
$15 million for a collaborative career and technical education program
Dickinson Public School District and Dickinson State University
$9 million for a CTE program located in Fargo;
$9 million for a CTE program located in Watford City;
$9 million for a CTE program located in Minot;
$2 million for a CTE program located at Lake Region State College
Other higher education related dollars include $50 million to North Dakota State for its agriculture products development center, as well as $19 million related to the university system capital building fund and $3 million for a project on Pulver Hall at Dickinson State.