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ND SBHE to consider 12.5 percent higher budget request for 2015-17

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education will consider a bigger 2015-17 biennium budget proposal than they did two years ago after its Budget and Finance Committee gave the green light Tuesday.

In total, the proposal to fund the base budget, including the continued cost of operation, is for about $85 million, which is 12.5 percent higher than the last request. The cost to cover bare minimum operations such as utilities and inflation alone is 9.4 percent higher than last biennium.

Altogether, the base budget includes the cost of things such as campus and information technology security, an internal audit and mental health support services for students.

"These are good items, and they are big items," committee chair Duaine Espegard said. "When you get done with it, you realize it is a big request, but justifiably a good request."

But part of the growing budget comes from changes in how higher education is funded.

At a committee meeting two weeks ago, Espegard said a substantial part of the request is due to the funding model that was put in place during last year's legislative session, which is tied to credit hour completion. The credit hour funding requires about $49 million, and about $14 million of that is required by the funding model to bring all of the institutions to the "highest tier."

Schools are grouped into two-year, four-year and research institution categories and given extra funding based on credit hour completion with schools in their group. With this formula, two-year colleges are funded the least because they have fewer students and therefore suffer the most by averaging out the credit hour completion funding instead of just using the institution with the highest funding amount in their category.

To keep two-year colleges from getting the short end of the stick, the committee voted to keep the $14 million line item, even though Espegard said Gov. Jack Dalrymple preferred averaging the schools instead of using the highest level.

At their meeting later this month, the SBHE will also consider asking for about $15 million to fund one-time requests and about $13 million to fund scholarships and other student affordability items.

Other business

The committee also gave the go-ahead for the board to look at several other funding necessities, such as distributing the $5 million remainder of a $10 million deferred maintenance funding pool. If the board passes it, North Dakota State University will get the most with $1.1 million and the University of North Dakota will receive about $948,000 to spend on campus upkeep.

The Pathways to Student Success Plan, which would raise admission standards at North Dakota University System institutions, was also discussed at the committee meeting. Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen said he is working with other higher education officials to find a way to fairly set credit hour prices.

"The overall purpose of all this is to have simplified tuition models," Skogen said.

He said another important piece of the puzzle will be coming up with a smooth transition plan and, pending board approval, he hopes to have Pathways implemented by the spring of 2017. Skogen said Pathways will also be discussed at the upcoming SBHE meeting.