The North Dakota House Education Committee's do-not-pass recommendation Tuesday on the North Dakota Promise Bill, which would provide reduced and free tuition for qualifying college students, is bad news for North Dakota universities struggling t...
The North Dakota House Education Committee's do-not-pass recommendation Tuesday on the North Dakota Promise Bill, which would provide reduced and free tuition for qualifying college students, is bad news for North Dakota universities struggling to maintain enrollments.
But massive reductions in the scope of a similar plan in Minnesota may mean North Dakota schools likely won't face an enrollment challenge from their neighbor to the east.
During his re-election campaign last year, against DFL opponent Attorney General Mike Hatch, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed a plan to offer two years of free college tuition to Minnesota students who graduate in the top 25 percent of their high school class. The plan, called Academic Competitiveness Highlighting Individual Excellence and Valuing Education, or ACHIEVE, promised four years of free tuition to students majoring in a math or science field.
That plan later was pared down to a scholarship program that offered students $314 for each advanced course taken in high school and limited qualifying students to those from families with an annual income of less than $100,000. The bill was introduced in that form in the state's House and Senate in February.
Minnesota Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, sponsored the bill in the Senate. At a March 1 committee meeting, she said it was further pared down to only apply to students from families with annual incomes below $50,000. The bill has not had a hearing yet in the House, according to its chief sponsor, Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls.
Slightly less than 20 percent of North Dakota college students are from Minnesota. About 90 percent of those students are concentrated at UND, North Dakota State University in Fargo and North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, which hug the state's eastern border.
A September study by the North Dakota University System estimated the state could lose up to 18 percent of incoming freshman as a result of the original ACHIEVE plan. The report estimated the lost revenue to the university system through tuition, fees, room and board at more than $27 million.
Robling said the bill as it stands now is unlikely to convince a significant number of Minnesota students to stay in state rather than attend North Dakota schools.
The North Dakota Promise Bill, sponsored by Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, promises reduced tuition beginning in 2012 to North Dakota students who meet certain academic and residency requirements and free tuition by 2017.
The bill was passed Feb. 14 by the Senate, but received a 10-to-3 do-not-pass recommendation Tuesday from the House Education Committee. The bill could still be passed by the full House when it arrives there for a vote.
The stated goal of North Dakota's Promise Bill is to keep more students in state, strengthening both the university system and, when those students graduate, the state's economy. The stated goal of the Minnesota ACHIEVE Bill, by contrast, is more narrowly focused on encouraging high school and college students to take rigorous math and science courses.
Supporters of the North Dakota bill have portrayed it as part of a growing trend by states to reward their best and brightest high school students for staying in-state for college, while opponents have called the bill expensive and unlikely to keep students in North Dakota after they graduate.
Supporters argue those students are more likely to form deep attachments and remain in North Dakota, increasing the state's knowledge capital and potential for economic growth.
Georgia and West Virginia have instituted similar plans with varying degrees of success. A preliminary report on the West Virginia Promise plan, which began in 2002, states the plan has successfully raised enrollment at West Virginia universities but has not significantly increased the number of those students who stay in-state after graduation.
Brenda Thompson, assistant vice president for enrollment management at West Virginia University in Morgantown, said the Promise plan has increased the academic standing of state universities by keeping higher caliber students in state.
She argued that even graduates who take jobs out of state form a stronger bond to West Virginia than if they had left at 18 years old. She said more of those graduates are likely to return later in life and bring knowledge and expertise with them.