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State grant program for higher ed loses funding

A state-funded program intended to spur private donations for schools in the North Dakota University System could be defunded through budget reductions for higher education.

A state-funded program intended to spur private donations for schools in the North Dakota University System could be defunded through budget reductions for higher education.

The legislative framework for the Higher Education Challenge Fund, a matching grant initiative that provides $1 of state money for every $2 of private donations within a per-campus limit, remains intact. However, the funding for the grants themselves was eliminated in House amendments to Senate Bill 2003, which sets the 2017-19 budget appropriations for the NDUS.

The loss of public dollars comes after Gov. Doug Burgum advocated in his January budget recommendations to boost state funding for the grants to $10 million from the $3 million proposed in the outgoing budget of his predecessor, former Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Mike Nowatzki, a representative of Burgum's office, said the governor still believes "we need to maintain this successful program."

Given the current budget climate, Nowatzki said Burgum is "open to adjustments" to his proposal of $10 million in state funding, a level the governor suggested could help offset the wider cuts to higher education dollars.


"To leverage more private dollars to make up for the loss of public funds, that'd be something we'd like to do," Nowatzki said, though he added lawmakers will "have to figure out where they're comfortable" in funding the program.

The challenge grants for higher education were established in the 2013 Legislative Assembly with an initial funding pool of $29 million. Of that total sum, $10 million apiece was earmarked for UND and North Dakota State University. The other nine campuses in the state system were approved for up to $1 million each in potential match dollars.

Funding for the grant program was reduced to $23.5 million in the 2015 Legislative Assembly and dwindled to $22.1 million in last year's budget allotment process.

In the current legislative session, the Senate approved a version of SB 2003, which included funding of $4 million in state match dollars, a pool that was zeroed out by the House after an unfavorable update of the state's projected revenues.

Though the funding could be drained, the current appropriations bill leaves the option open to "easily do the program again" if state money were to become available, said NDUS representative Billie Jo Lorius.

DeAnna Carlson Zink, ceo of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, said challenge grants have been "extremely important" to university fundraising the past few years.

Carlson Zink said the match provides additional incentive for donors to contribute gifts to the university knowing the state would provide its own buy-in. One major showcase of the grant's use on the Grand Forks campus is the recently finished Collaborative Energy Complex, the new home of the UND College of Engineering and Mines.

The $15.5 million complex was funded in part with $3.9 million in challenge grant dollars. Though the majority of construction costs were sourced through private gifts, Carlson Zink said the state match was "instrumental" to the fundraising effort.


The funding for the center was raised in the first biennium of the matching grants' existence. In the years after, Carlson Zink said, the program was altered so state match dollars were to be used for building endowments for student scholarships and programs, as well as certain faculty positions.

"Those are pieces that are key priorities for the university," she said. "We'll keep working on philanthropic funding for those items and see if maybe we can find other sources for match dollars."

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