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Higher Education

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Though just a quarter of funding, state money is essential, NDSU official says

FARGO -- Faculty and staff at North Dakota State University are girding for deep cuts in state appropriations -- some anticipate a cut of 30 percent or more.

But though state funds last year provided just 28 percent of the university’s revenues, it’s essential funding, NDSU’s top financial officer says.

Appropriations from the state general fund provide essential funding for instructional activities at the university, said Bruce Bollinger, NDSU’s vice president for finance and administration.

“Those general fund dollars really are the base support for the institution,” he said.

Other than research revenue, tuition and fees contribute 25 percent of NDSU’s budget, with the rest comprised of auxiliary revenues from bookstore sales, housing and dining services and gifts.

Research grants are restricted, and cannot be used for other purposes, so they cannot help close a budget gap, Bollinger said.

“Those other research funds can’t offset these cuts,” he said.

As legislators began their budget writing in January, cuts to campuses were anticipated in the range of 15 to 20 percent for 2017-19 -- but a group of distinguished professors recently warned that the magnitude will be 20 to 30 percent, resulting in what they said would be “long-lasting, perhaps irreversible impacts.”

Any cuts will be in addition to reductions of 6.55 percent this biennium, as state government was forced to trim budgets because of declining revenues from the downturn in the Oil Patch and low farm prices.

Whatever cuts do come will follow years of state funding growth at North Dakota colleges and universities. State appropriations for higher education rose significantly from $472 million in 2007-09 to $910.6 million in 2013-15, then after cuts dropped to $837.8 million in the current biennium. The base budget lawmakers began with proposed spending $649.9 million in 2017-19.

The House has yet to pass a higher education budget, and differences in the House and Senate versions will need to be resolved by a conference committee.

“Things are still really, really fluid on almost everything,” Bollinger said. “We really have a long way to go in a short amount of time.”

House and Senate bill versions sometimes vary considerably, including whether campuses will be permitted to raise tuition 3 percent per year, as the Senate would allow, or 4 percent, as the House would.The State Board of Higher Education will determine later whether tuition will increase.

NDSU, which more than a year ago adopted a hiring freeze in response to the budget pressures, will need to offer fewer classes, resulting in delayed graduations and larger class sizes, administrators, including President Dean Bresciani, have said.

With major cuts looming, NDSU faculty have proclaimed a “crisis of confidence” in the university system and have invited faculty at North Dakota’s other 10 public campuses to join them in expressing concern.

“There’s a lot of concern at NDSU,” said Kathryn Gordon, faculty senate president and an associate professor of psychology. “We’re really worried about how this will impact us.”

So far, faculty at Williston State College have agreed, and faculty at the University of North Dakota are considering doing so.

The hope is to bring the State Board of Higher Education as well as faculty, student and staff representatives together in a summit to “discuss the value and future of higher education in the state,” Gordon said.

Already, Chancellor Mark Hagerott has offered to meet later this week with a small group of NDSU faculty to hear their concerns, she said. “I think that’s a very positive thing,” Gordon added.

As faculty leave and are not replaced, they leave gaps in expertise, she said. Their graduate students -- and their research projects and grant funding -- also leave with them.