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University system submits ConnectND recommendations

BISMARCK The North Dakota University System told legislators today what steps they think will be necessary to make ConnectND run properly and to increase the operational value of the university systems' software.

BISMARCK The North Dakota University System told legislators today what steps they think will be necessary to make ConnectND run properly and to increase the operational value of the university systems' software.

Those recommendations include more than 10 new employees, technical upgrades, studies, planning and a price tag that reaches several million dollars.

Funding for most of the recommendations was not included in the State Board of Higher Education's requested budget or in Gov. John Hoeven's recommended budget, interim ConnectND Executive Director Bonnie Neas said. That's because the recommendations only recently were completed and are not yet in final form, she said.

Neas said she rushed the report to legislators early to increase the chances of receiving funding this legislative session.

Since the ConnectND system became active in 2005, students, staff and administrators have complained of slow response times, errors and being kicked off the system.

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For students, that frustration is exacerbated by a ConnectND fee. At UND, that fee reached $81.

"We wanted to get this issue before the committee early to get extra funding," Neas said. "We hope the state will consider taking some of the burden off students."

Neas estimated the cost of implementing all the recommendations at about $9.3 million. She said $3 million of that can be paid for out ConnectND's base budget and another $2.8 million already is covered in Gov. John Hoeven's recommended budget for the coming biennium. That leaves an additional request of roughly $3.5 million.

Neas said her office will complete a more comprehensive study in the next few weeks, detailing which recommendations require permanent funding and which can be funded with one-time dollars.

If the entire package cannot be funded this time, Neas said, her office would determine which recommendations could wait until a future legislative session. But if the state falls short of necessary money, she said, the only other funding option would be increasing student fees.

Rep. Francis Wald, RDickinson, chairman of the Education and Environment division of the House Appropriations Committee, told Neas the committee would study the recommendations and consult with her over the next several weeks.

An expanded version of this story will appear in Saturday's Herald.

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