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Matching grant for ND colleges about to end

BISMARCK - A state matching grant created to spur philanthropic gifts for colleges and universities is about to end, setting off a race to claim the leftover dollars.

Two years ago, the Legislature approved $29 million for the Higher Education Challenge Fund. For every $2 raised in private donations toward approved academic projects, the state would contribute $1.

"It has been a resounding success," said Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who chairs the fund's committee.

Wrigley credits the program, which is also in the governor's budget for 2015-17, with a surge of investment in student scholarships, especially at smaller campuses.

"The smaller schools especially, as you might imagine, don't have as robust a foundation," he said. "This has really enlivened their giving."

The $29 million includes $10 million each for North Dakota State University and University of North Dakota, and $1 million for the nine other campuses.

Most of the fund has already been claimed, but if those nine colleges don't claim their designated $1 million by Dec. 31, they will enter a competitive funding round for what remains.

NDSU and UND would have also entered a competitive round from Jan. 5 to June 30 had they not raised enough to claim their portion.

On Wednesday morning in Bismarck, the challenge fund committee approved about half of $1 million for UND, bringing the university's total to the $10 million cap.

NDSU was approved for $3.9 million Wednesday, bringing its total to $8.8 million of the possible $10 million. President Dean Bresciani said NDSU had received a final gift that would allow it to claim the maximum, but the gift had come in too close to the meeting date to be submitted.

The nine other campuses will apply for leftover funding on a first-come, first-served basis, with applications considered in the order they are received, Wrigley said.

To date, the committee has approved grants for scholarships, research, technology, endowed chairs and a couple of capital construction projects, he said.

"Every institution has been working diligently on the scholarship piece of that," said Larry Skogen, interim chancellor of the university system.

The committee approved 22 scholarships for NDSU on Wednesday. And on Tuesday, the chief financial officer of the NDSU Development Foundation told an executive committee that the fund was contributing to a "very positive" December for them.

The foundation's year-to-date giving was $16.8 million at the end of November and $22.6 million on Dec. 15, CFO Allyson Peterson said.

"I think the challenge grant is a large portion of that," she said. "People have been very motivated to claim that state grant match."

Bresciani echoed that sentiment Wednesday.

"The program has been monstrously successful in really achieving the goals of the legislators who funded it," he said.