The North Dakota Senate has approved a base budget for the North Dakota University System.

As it rounded out its final pair of bills before crossover day, the North Dakota Senate voted to approve the university system’s $648.7 million base budget. Added to that base budget is more than $40 million in enhancements – which includes $9.9 million for the Senate compensation plan, as well as $8.4 million of bond payments and around $14.2 million in adjustments to the higher-ed funding formula, as well as dollars for career and technical education – for a total proposed state appropriation around $689.5 million.

This is the third straight biennium the Senate has approved the system’s budget unanimously.

Included in the bill are changes to the university system’s funding formula. Those changes include giving a greater weight to career and technical education courses, also known as CTE courses, including computer science courses. It also fixes a flaw that caused at least one institution to see fewer dollars coming in, despite producing more credits.

“Keep in mind, until a few years ago, the campuses would scrabble behind the rail to try to get money for their campuses,” Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said. “We went to a funding formula where you got paid on the basis of the number of students that earn credits in various classes.”

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The system’s base budget is the same as it was in 2019, but slightly higher than in 2017. However, the dollars are still less than 2013 and 2015.

Gov. Doug Burgum’s proposed budget calls for a 7.5% reduction in the system’s funding formula, which is a mechanism to give state dollars to institutions based on the number of credit hours each school completes, rather than per student. That cut would reduce the system’s general fund budget from $648.7 million to $629.3 million. The system had asked for a base budget of $660.5 million. Although the Senate approved the $648.7 million budget, it still could be cut as it heads to the House.

System leaders worried that those cuts could mean the loss of 200 jobs systemwide.

Legislative general fund appropriations make up about 25% of the university system’s budget, said Tammy Dolan, chief financial officer for the university system. The other 75% is made up of tuition dollars, grants, donations and other federal funding.

In his budget address in December, Burgum pointed to decreasing enrollments across the system since 2009-11. Additionally, Burgum noted that higher education’s proportion of general fund spending is still higher in the 2021-23 biennium than it was eight years ago.

“Total funding for higher education next biennium is proposed at $2.6 billion, including a general fund decrease of $9.3 million from the current biennium’s legislative base level,” Burgum said in December. “This reflects a trend of decreasing enrollment and a 7.5 percent reduction in the formula payment rate.”

The North Dakota University System makes up 13% of the state’s total budget, said Holmberg, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In total, the changes would bring another $14.2 million to the university system’s funding.

The legislation is a long way from being finished, however. The bill now heads to the House, where university leaders will again make their funding pitches. The university system budget is typically among the last finished during the session.