Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



RALPH KINGSBURY: Higher ed 101: Enrollment growth isn't free

Some political arguments just seem to go on and on. Even with the end of the legislative session, the appropriations argument between UND and North Dakota State University continues.

Ralph Kingsbury
Ralph Kingsbury

Some political arguments just seem to go on and on. Even with the end of the legislative session, the appropriations argument between UND and North Dakota State University continues.

The two schools are different enough that you cannot simply divide the appropriations by the number of students and come up with a correct answer.

Also, there is a difference between the state's willingness to support different programs. For example, at both UND and NDSU, the history departments get essentially all of their money from either state appropriations or student tuition. On the other hand (and there will more about this in future columns), in UND's aviation college, state appropriations amount to something less than 8 percent of the college's total budget.

Taxpayers are not paying for student's flight time, whether in the airplane or flying unmanned aircraft.

When UND decided to develop its aviation programs, it was made very clear to them just what they would get in program appropriations. It was UND's responsibility to raise the rest of the budget.


I have said this in previous columns: Today, NDSU is underfunded because of the dramatic growth it has experienced in the past decade. The growth took place with the full knowledge and consent of the State Board of Higher Education. It also took place across several sessions of the state Legislature, and it even took place while the Roundtable on Higher Education continued to function under some appearance of validity.

In other words, every area, every level, every department and every responsible individual was aware of the dramatic growth NDSU was experiencing.

During that time, some people asked the question about funding levels, but not very many. Most seemed uninterested in talking about it. Some responded that the answer was to increase appropriations. When those who asked the question pointed out that this was not happening, they were met with a deafening silence.

As for me, I never heard any one in a leadership position address the collision course NDSU was on except former Chancellor Robert Potts, and we all know what happened to him. At least I am in good company.

As I have written in the past, anyone understanding anything about the cost of higher education should know you cannot have the kind of enrollment growth NDSU experienced without a large increase in funding. Since state funding provides about 2/3 of direct instructional cost, it means almost a proportionate increase in state appropriations.

So, who is to blame, and how are we to fix the problem? As I said above, the blame can be allocated around all levels. Certainly we can say that former NDSU President Joe Chapman should bear some of the responsibility. He knew that the Legislature wasn't giving him the financial support.

On the other hand, it was when he tried to go around Potts to get the Legislature to increase the board's recommended appropriation that Potts got fired, and Chapman created bad blood with many in the Legislature.

Should he have stopped the growth at that point? Maybe even cut the growth? I was in many meetings where people said again and again what a great job he was doing growing NDSU, as he had been.


Was it the board? They never asked for nearly enough, especially for NDSU; but then, the schools never even received the amount the board requested. I never heard either a board member or a member of the staff talk about the obvious developing financial imbalance.

Was it the Legislature or the governor? It is hard for me to point a finger at the Legislature as a monolithic body. I never saw even close to a majority of the Legislature invited into the process.

The Roundtable, it seems to me, was mostly a self-appointed body which came up with an incomplete plan that hasn't yet won the political backing of today's Tea Party conservatives. The Roundtable supporters were trying to do an awful lot with very little legitimacy.

And that brings us to today's problems. There is no doubt that NDSU is underfunded. The university should not have been allowed to get into this position, but it was never stopped. It will take real leadership to solve the problem. I haven't seen that leadership yet.

Reach Kingsbury at kae@invisimax.com . He is a former member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education.

What To Read Next
Get Local