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Neil Gudmestad, Fargo, column: Both research universities need more N.D. support

By Neil Gudmestad FARGO -- As a faculty member with 26 years at North Dakota State University, I was intrigued by the Herald's May 15 editorial ("The worst thing, the best thing at NDSU," Page D1). The editorial seems to fault NDSU for accommodat...

By Neil Gudmestad

FARGO -- As a faculty member with 26 years at North Dakota State University, I was intrigued by the Herald's May 15 editorial ("The worst thing, the best thing at NDSU," Page D1).

The editorial seems to fault NDSU for accommodating student demand. This stance seems odd to me given that NDSU must admit any student meeting its admission standards.

NDSU does not compel students to apply and matriculate. In the case of out-of-state students who have been drawn to our state by the success of NDSU (and UND), that would seem to be a positive reflection on the increasing visibility and reputation of our two research universities and a critical contribution to North Dakota's future.

Our state has a declining college-age population, and the failure to reverse this trend could have consequences on future economic growth.


The reputation and subsequent ability of our research universities to keep young North Dakotans here, and to draw young people to our state, is an advantage not offered by many other aspects of North Dakota. This is something that should be embraced by our state and nurtured, not criticized.

I was also intrigued to see a legislator such as Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, frame NDSU's success as "unchecked growth." That growth, to my memory, has been ongoing for more than a decade, and I never had heard it criticized before. In fact, it has been commended and encouraged by many legislative and civic leaders.

If Holmberg or the Herald's issue is with the recent revelation that NDSU needs additional state support, then that, too, is interesting. The editorial asks whether enrollment growth should warrant more funding. I can assure the editorial board that NDSU has been underfunded in comparison to other state institutions, not only through the past decade of growth -- but prior to it.

NDSU never has received the same level of funding -- on a per full-time student basis -- as other institutions in the system. Yes, the disparity and the inequity have grown, but it always has been there, and NDSU always has been at or near the bottom in per-student funding -- a level of disparity few other ND campuses have suffered.

This means that NDSU gets $1,500 less per full-time student than does UND, but UND also is underfunded relative to other institutions.

Clearly, the Legislature has ignored this disparity in funding, and I would invite any legislator to explain the rationale behind underfunding North Dakota's two research universities.

Perhaps Holmberg had it right when he stated, "Disappointment is such a weak word," because any explanation provided on this historical and egregiously flawed funding model would, indeed, be weak.

We should all be clear on one thing. NDSU students weren't asking for additional state resources or a change in how the board distributes its general fund support. They were asking only to increase their own tuition.


This entire situation is particularly agonizing for me as a native North Dakotan. I feel fortunate to have obtained all of my education in this state. Although I am a faculty member at NDSU, I am a distinguished alumnus of Valley City State University, so I am very familiar with the needs of the state and its youth.

But I'm also painfully aware of the political issues that higher education funding has dealt with in this state.

My message should not be misconstrued. This state has a proud history of supporting higher education at all its institutions. But it remains a mystery to me why funding at the research institutions has lagged behind many of the other universities.

NDSU and UND provide unique higher education opportunities, and I do not believe that those who represent us have done an adequate job of addressing the needs of our research universities.

This fact remains: NDSU is the second leading economic engine in the state. It creates more new technology, long-term businesses and jobs than any other aspect of the state.

North Dakota legislators should be embracing what NDSU does and looking for solutions to the flawed funding model for higher education, so we can continue to provide an enhanced educational experience for students.

In short, portraying NDSU's current situation negatively and blaming it on enrollment growth is not only inaccurate but also counterproductive to North Dakota's best interests.

A more commendable position would be to encourage a stronger and more equitable support of our state's two research universities.


NDSU and UND have enormous impact on this state and should be treated more appropriately by the Legislature. North Dakota's economic interests seem best served by doing so.

Gudmestad is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at NDSU.

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