Last week’s column suggested “a brighter future on state campuses.” Not surprisingly, not every reader sees the situation quite that way, and several responded with additional information, questions and dissenting opinions.

This column might be labeled “Follow-up.”

One reader challenged the idea that North Dakota is starving its higher education system, as a faculty member suggested in an article published in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” and referenced here last week.

Figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank, show that state funding “remains far below pre-recession levels in most states” – but not in North Dakota.

State funding per student in North Dakota, adjusted for inflation, rose even more than fiscal hawks imagined. Criticism of the higher education budget during the last legislative session and after suggested that North Dakota’s spending had risen 15%. In real dollar terms, the actual increase in North Dakota was $1,387 per student, or 16.1%, more than in any other state.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Wyoming ranked second, with a 7.8% increase. Hawaii was third at 5.4% and California fourth at 0.3%. The 46 other states all had decreases in state spending per pupil, ranging up to 40.1% in Louisiana and 55.7% in Arizona.

In Minnesota state spending per student was down 7.5%, in South Dakota 6.2% and in Montana 1.9%.

The South Dakota number is especially interesting in view of a question from a reader wondering why enrollment in South Dakota’s colleges and universities is about 20% less than in North Dakota’s system while South Dakota has about 13% more people.

The answer goes straight to governance of higher education.

The South Dakota Board of Regents governs six four-year colleges, the same number as North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education – but the South Dakota regents are not responsible for the state’s four technical schools. These two-year “technical institutes” are governed by the state’s Board for Technical Education and local school districts.

In other words, South Dakota has a two-tiered governance system while North Dakota has a single board. This is an issue in North Dakota; lawmakers rejected a plan put forward by a task force on governance that Gov. Doug Burgum convened. Rather than a three-tier system, as originally proposed, or a two-tier system later suggested, the Legislature offered a constitutional amendment that would increase the size of the Board of Higher Education from eight to 15 members. Voters will decide on that proposal next year.

Technical education is of interest here for other reasons. One is the concept of “polytechnic institutes” mentioned last week. This idea is farther advanced than the column suggested. Bismarck State College has teamed with the Bismarck schools to create a “career academy” that Burgum has touted as a model for other communities. Dickinson State University has long offered specialized technical training and is adding programs.

South Dakota’s historically more robust technical training system has been seen a threat to the State College of Science. Its Wahpeton campus is the closest of North Dakota’s colleges and universities to the South Dakota border. South Dakota’s Lakes Area Technical Institute is 90 minutes away straight down Interstate 29.

Late last year, South Dakota’s regents waived out-of-state tuition for students from adjoining states. This didn’t include the technical institutes, governed by a different board, and enrollment at NDSCS was up 20 students on “count day” this year, to 2,977, including the school’s programs in Fargo.

These differences in governance explain some of the enrollment gap between the two states. If South Dakota’s technical institutions were included in the enrollment comparison, the disparity would be less, but North Dakota’s system would still be larger. If enrollment at North Dakota’s two-year schools were subtracted from the North Dakota total, the result would be the same. The comparison wouldn’t be “apples-to-apples” however, because two-year schools here are what used to be called “junior colleges” that send many of their students on to four-year college programs.

Another reader disputed UND’s assertion that this year’s incoming class is the most academically prepared in the school’s history, adding that the university made the same claim in other years and suggesting, “I think you should challenge UND on this.”

UND’s search for a new president appears to be on a fast track. The search committee narrowed the initial field of 60 to 12 candidates who will be interviewed later this month using an online service. Some of those will be invited to campus in mid-November and names of finalists will be sent to the state board in early December. As a practical matter, it will be hard to hide the identity of candidates who come to campus, even though a law passed two years ago mandates secrecy until finalists are sent to the board.

All of this suggests a depth of interest in the state’s colleges, and that supports the headline’s message that the future is brighter for the campuses.