Higher ed administrators ask legislators to consider effects of budget cuts to North Dakota universities

University system leaders, UND, Mayville presidents say Gov. Doug Burgum's recommended 10% cuts could result in the loss of programs and another 300 jobs across the state.

Incoming UND President Andrew Armacost is set to begin his full-time presidency duties on June 1, but will do so from his home in Colorado. He should be on campus about three weeks later due to the logistics of moving from Colorado to North Dakota during the pandemic. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald

Leaders at North Dakota’s higher education system say another round of 10% budget cuts could mean another 300 jobs lost across the system, which has already suffered through nearly 900 job losses since 2015.

Tammy Dolan, North Dakota University System’s chief financial officer and a vice chancellor, noted that Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget guidelines for a 10% cut to higher education could mean the loss of programs and jobs across the state. The system has already been hit hard by budget cuts in previous bienniums, she noted.

Dolan presented the system’s needs-based budget to the legislative interim higher education committee. The budget, which was approved by the State Board of Higher Education this summer, was presented without cuts to the committee.

Since the 2016-17 budget allotments, the system has lost around 900 jobs and has streamlined its work, Dolan said.

“We're pretty lean,” she said. “This next 300 could be very impactful. It more than likely would result in some academic programs (being eliminated), reductions in student services .... We do not want to do those things. And so it'd be a fairly significant impact, we believe.”


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.

Dolan said the system is fully aware of the state’s murky revenue forecast and will work with the governor’s office and the Legislature to help balance the state’s budget.

The budget approved by the SBHE includes a 3% annual salary increase for system employees with certain caveats and a 1.1% to 2% annual tuition increase to cover the student-funded portion of salary increase.

UND President Andrew Armacost, who also presented during the meeting on behalf of UND, said the university is already dealing with extra budget tolls due to the coronavirus pandemic. If the university were to plan for more budget cuts, that could mean an additional $14.9 million in state appropriations cuts for the university and $5.2 million in state cuts for the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“Depending how long the pandemic goes, we could certainly be looking at uncertainty with respect to tuition levels that aren’t just for this fall or for this spring,” he said.

Mayville State President Brian Van Horn also asked the committee to consider accepting the board’s needs-based budget next year when the legislative session begins.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Mayville, asked what impact enrollment may have on the budget.


Dolan said how the budgets will ultimately shake out remains to be seen for the system and individual schools as final enrollment numbers are pending next week.

UND saw an uptick in first-day enrollment, despite the ongoing pressures of the pandemic. Other schools, such as North Dakota State, saw a slight decrease in enrollment. But enrollment numbers can change between the first day of classes and Sept. 22, Dolan noted.

Enrollment generally was predicted to be down across the system and, while those decline may not be as severe as initially predicted, Dolan said the impact will likely vary by institution.

“Everything changes that last week, but it's not necessarily as large as we were afraid it could be,” she said.

In order to cover the governor’s budget guidelines reductions, annual tuition – assuming enrollment stays steady – would have to go up significantly, in some cases between 4% to 13%. It's something Dolan said the system is not willing to do.

“We would never recommend that,” she said. “That does not work. Student affordability is one of the key things the board has tried to manage over the years.”

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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