Gov. Doug Burgum gives support to research dollars in proposed budget
The governor’s recommended budget includes using 10% of future Legacy Fund earnings for research and innovation both in the higher education system and throughout the private sector.
Dollars dedicated to research at North Dakota’s college campuses and the private sector may come to fruition if Gov. Doug Burgum’s proposed budget is passed, but leaders say there’s a long way to go before any money is allocated.
The governor’s recommended budget includes using 10% of future Legacy Fund earnings for research and innovation both in the higher education system and throughout the private sector. Burgum said the funds should be used to “embrace bold ideas that will solve major problems the world currently faces such as carbon capture and utilization, drive commercialization of products and discover opportunities for the future.”
During a Herald editorial board meeting earlier this month, Burgum said he and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford are “big believers” in research and innovation, thus why the proposal was placed in his budget.
“From an economic business model standpoint, when research dollars come in and you attract top professors and they get to work with top students and PhD students, that's a place where a school can really create a differentiated advantage there,” Burgum said.
Leaders at the North Dakota University System and the Valley Prosperity Partnership have been working for more than two years to secure funding dedicated to research and development at North Dakota’s universities.
The proposal originally sought $100 million to split between UND and North Dakota State. However, a later iteration of the proposal sought to divide 15% of Legacy Fund earnings between the two and incorporated more of the system. That proposal failed to pass the Legislature last biennium.
Earlier this year, higher ed leaders said they were seeking 15% of Legacy Fund earnings that would effectively be controlled by UND and NDSU with an oversight committee. The bulk would go to UND and NDSU, but 10% would go to the other nine institutions.
If universities can tackle issues like carbon sequestration, which has been researched heavily by UND and the Energy and Environmental Research Center, they could have an impact on not only North Dakota and the region, but the entire world, according to Burgum.
UND President Andrew Armacost said Burgum’s proposed budget shows that Burgum “recognizes what universities can do for the economic benefit of North Dakota.”
“We've tried to build the case, and I think we demonstrated in many cases on our campus and the other campuses within the system, that research can have a positive impact on the local economies and on the state economy,” Armacost said. "We're looking to diversify the economy beyond the two-legged stool as some people call it that is agriculture and energy.”
Additionally, Burgum’s budget proposes other research-related investments to be funded from the estimated $500 million or more Legacy earnings at the end of this biennium on June 30.
That includes $30 million within the research and innovation theme for the continuation and expansion of the Innovation Technology Loan Fund, or LIFT Fund. This program, first developed by the previous legislative session, has already demonstrated significant return on investment through the growth or relocation of at least 16 companies, according to a Burgum press release.
A second $10 million will be included in the governor’s proposed budget to enhance the 2-to-1 Higher Education Challenge Grants program. Challenge grants dollars can go to student-focused areas, including scholarships, endowed chairs for a unique department, educational infrastructure -- such as updated library resources, specialized software, STEM equipment and smartboards, among other items -- or research and technology.
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said it’ll ultimately be up to the universities and the system as to how they get their dollars for research and what emphasis they want to place on research.
"That's one of the things that, at the end of the day, the higher ed community will have to come in and decide from the smorgasbord that's out there, where they're getting their money, do you want it in formula, do you want it in matching challenge grants, or do you want it in research? Because there's not going to be food in that smorgasbord for all three plates."
Nick Hacker, chairman of the State Board of Higher Education, noted there’s still a lot to go through in the budget proposal itself, in addition to work on the research proposal.
“We have a long ways to go,” he said. “The football game hasn't even started; we're still at the pep rally.”
The higher education system is facing another potential cut this coming biennium. Burgum's proposed budget calls for a 7.5% decrease to the system's funding formula, which is calculated based on how many credit hours an institution completes.
The cuts, if they go through, could mean job losses across the system, Hacker previously told the Herald.
Though, Burgum contends that, if presidents are careful with their budgets and find new revenue streams, they may not have to cut jobs.