With the start of the second half of the legislative session, higher education leaders spent Monday asking members of the North Dakota House to support the North Dakota University System’s funding bill.

Leaders from across the NDUS testified in front of the House Appropriations Education and Environment Division on Monday, March 8. More testimony is expected throughout the week.

The North Dakota Senate approved the university system’s $689.5 million total budget last month. That number includes the system’s $648.7 million base budget along with more than $40 million in enhancements, such as dollars for bond payments, adjustments for the higher-ed funding formula and more.

Included in the bill are changes to the university system’s funding formula, which gives state appropriations to schools based on credit hours completed. Among those changes are 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.

In a rare mid-session move, the State Board of Higher Education voted last month to give its support to the Senate’s budget, though members said they would be supportive of other enhancements to the budget.

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“We do have a bill that's in front of us that's very closely aligned, not only with the needs-based budget but also with several other requests,” Nick Hacker, chairman of the State Board of Higher Education, said during the February board meeting. “So, I think this is a little bit unique in that we're in a position to say that we are aligned.”

Hacker noted that the changes to the funding formula, which equate to about $14 million, don’t restore the 19% cuts the system suffered in previous bienniums. The changes allow institutions and the system to plan long term, he said.

Hacker said the board delayed its strategic planning process by a year so it could get a better handle on how the pandemic will affect the future of higher education.

“It’s not going to look like it did even one year ago today,” he said. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity within higher education.”

Legislators and higher-ed leaders also spoke about the system’s capital buildings fund list, which ranks which higher education capital projects may receive funding each biennium. The list prioritizes health and safety issues first and then looks at program needs across the 11 institutions. Higher education leaders typically present a list of priorities to legislators, with a few of the projects getting funding each year.

Legislators also heard from leaders at UND, Lake Region State College and Dickinson State.

The system’s budget is a long way from being finalized, however. The university system budget is typically among the last to be approved during the legislative process.