Proposal would revamp ND support for colleges

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- The presidents of North Dakota's two largest universities say they support a new method of parceling out aid to the 11 schools in North Dakota's university system, one that partly relies on how many class hours their students finish.

The formula, drafted by a group of finance officials at four of the colleges, is included in Gov. Jack Dalrymple's budget recommendations to the Legislature. The governor's plan includes almost $21 million to implement the formula, and assures schools they wouldn't lose money by it.

It includes data on the number of classes that students finish, the types of courses they take, and the building space on each campus. The numbers are then adjusted to even out differences between large and small schools, and the cost of offering specific courses.

Kayla Effertz, a senior policy adviser to Dalrymple, said Thursday the goal was to compare each college's cost of educating each student, and use that information to determine the right level of state support for each school.

"I think campuses have a desire to be on a level playing field with one another, and that's what this really aims to do," Effertz said.

North Dakota State University would be the biggest beneficiary of the proposed formula. Budget documents say if it is implemented, NDSU will get $6.4 million, or about 30 percent of the $20.9 million included in Dalrymple's suggested budget.

Officials at NDSU have long complained that the school's share of state support is too meager when compared to its enrollment. Dean Bresciani, NDSU's president, called the proposed formula "exceptionally balanced" and said it had been "developed very carefully, very thoughtfully."

"It's objective, it's appropriate, it's conservative and serves the needs of the campuses, and it's equitable," Bresciani said.

The University of North Dakota is one of three schools in the system that would not get added money. The other two are Williston State College and Minot State University.

UND President Robert Kelley said he welcomed discussion about the new financing method.

"We certainly have worked very hard ... on finding a way to do a bit more of an understandable way of approaching appropriations and funding for higher education," Kelley said. "I look forward to making this work."

The plan has the potential to remove a major source of infighting in the Legislature, where college officials who felt their institutions were being shortchanged sometimes took their arguments directly to lawmakers.

During the 2005 Legislature, the presidents of NDSU, Lake Region State College and Bismarck State College pressed lawmakers to approve $12.2 million in new spending for their campuses, despite opposition from Robert Potts, the university system's chancellor at the time.

Friction from the incident and other disagreements between Potts and Joseph Chapman, who was NDSU's president at the time, eventually led to Potts being forced out as chancellor.

Aside from NDSU, budget documents say seven other schools would get extra money infusions from the formula.

Among North Dakota's public four-year schools, Dickinson State would get $2.2 million, Valley City State $1.9 million and Mayville State $904,705, budget documents say.

Among the system's two-year schools, Bismarck State College would get $3.5 million; Lake Region State College at Devils Lake, $2.8 million; the North Dakota State College of Science at Wahpeton, $2.2 million; and Dakota College at Bottineau would get $968,128.

Effertz said the governor's office "hasn't had any real pushback so far" on the plan.

"If we get on here, we'll be able to really have a very predictable, accountable, transparent way of funding higher education," she said.

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