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RALPH KINGSBURY: Controlling the costs of college

The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education is going to study the cost of fees assessed against students for enrolling in particular programs at North Dakota colleges and universities.

Ralph Kingsbury

The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education is going to study the cost of fees assessed against students for enrolling in particular programs at North Dakota colleges and universities.

For example, if accepted for enrollment in the College of Business and Public Administration, or in the college of Nursing or Engineering, and other colleges or programs at UND, besides the tuition and fees paid by all students at that level, the student also pays a program fee.

In addition to program fees, in many cases, there are also course fees.

Requiring approval by the board, some courses require only a so-called flat fee. For example, if you enroll in Multi-Engine Systems and Procedures in Aerospace, you pay a flat fee of $45. On the other hand, enrollment in ATC: Radar Operations II has a unit cost of $1,875. The online chart doesn't list the number of units, but my guess is that it is a standard three-credit course, or a fee cost of $5,625. You better do your homework for that course.

When I enrolled in UND, the semester tuition and fees totaled $90. There were, if I remember correctly, a few courses, such as sciences with lab fees at about $20.

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A friend told me that working long hours one summer at Minuteman missile sites, he made enough money to pay for two years at UND, including room and board. You couldn't do that today, even working those hours out in the Oil Patch. Even allowing for inflation, the average person today can't make enough in a summer to pay the tuition and fees for one semester.

College has become an expensive proposition. It is not a place to spend time figuring out your life, or to try to find a spouse, unless you have a wealthy connection or are smart enough to receive scholarships.

And yet, that is just what happens too often. I recently read about a student who graduated with a bachelor's degree in mass communications, whatever that is. She couldn't get a job in this economy, so she went back to school and got a master's degree in mass communications. Today, she lives with her parents as the only job she can find is selling women's clothing in a mall store.

That brings up another area that any authoritative board controlling a school or system should study. That is developing a system that seriously advises potential students as to the value of a particular program. By value I mean a return on the investment the student is making, especially if the student will end up with debt.

The way public colleges and universities are financed today, they are driven to increase enrollment by any means. Too often, that means minimal enrollment standards and allowing students to enroll in nearly any program regardless of the value of the program.

You end up with too many graduates in too many programs and not enough jobs for graduates. So, the cost of providing post-secondary education has become so expensive that tuition and fees means serious students wanting to enroll in programs society wants, can no longer afford them, or at least their debt is so much that they cannot pay it off.

North Dakota doesn't have to be like the rest of the United States. A higher education system with backing by the state government can create a system wherein the state's sons and daughters can again afford a college education with a lifetime value.

It is unfortunate, and another example of how we have allowed one of the past strengths of America to slip away from us. It is moving us into a second-tier nation.

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Kingsbury can be contacted at kae@invisimax.com .

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