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Budget cuts force North Dakota universities to take multi-faceted approach

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Lake Region State College President Doug Darling has had to make difficult decisions.

Lower than projected enrollment at Lake Region State College created a $400,000 budget shortfall, which was followed with a state mandated 4.05 percent cut to the school's 2015-17 appropriation. Soon, the total budget problem ballooned to about $1.5 million.

For now, the school is suspending eight music courses, laying off two employees, limiting salary increases to one percent for those who make less than $41,750, closing the Farm Business Management office in Northwood, N.D., and not refilling four positions.

The future isn't looking much brighter.

"Everything we're hearing is it's going to be a tough legislative session and we need to plan for additional cuts," Darling said.

Lake Region is one of North Dakota's 11 public colleges and universities, overseen by the State Board of Higher Education, affected by budget cuts handed down from the state after revenue projections fell short.

In total, the 11 schools must cut about $30 million from the $740 million adjusted general fund appropriation.

The North Dakota University System Office also received a $151.6 million appropriation that was subject to a $6.1 million cut.

SBHE spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius said in an email the office is offering voluntary retirement agreements, delaying development of $200,000 financial aid scholarships and grants, canceling a $100,000 off-site lease, leaving some vacant positions open and reducing travel. Employees, though, will receive raises averaging 3 percent while Chancellor Mark Hagerott will not receive a pay increase.

 

The grant and scholarship reductions won't impact students in the ongoing 2015-17 biennium.

Interim UND President Ed Schafer has taken a long term approach in reshaping the university's budget by almost $22 million. North Dakota State University made smaller one-time cuts totalling $6.4 million to research endeavors.

At LRSC, Darling said low enrollment drove the decision to eliminate music courses, which have been offered for the last four years, and existing staff will continue to serve clients near the Northwood farm management office.

Darling said an average of four students were enrolled in each music course and the farm management office saw six or fewer students every semester since the spring of 2014.

"The mood on campus has been, not negative, but it's been everyone trying to pull together as a team, but also there's apprehension about 'Is it going to be in my department?'" Darling said.

So far, cuts total between $1.4 and $1.5 million.

"We're trying to do this without directly impacting students as much as possible," he said.

Valley City State University

Most Valley City State University's $1.6 million cut was done by delaying hires, increased enrollment and tuition revenue and reduced salary increases, said Greg Vanney, director of marketing and communications at Valley City State University.

"We know the budget situation in North Dakota isn't' just for right now," he said. "We need to think about the future and think strategically."

Five faculty positions were left vacant—psychology, software engineering, marketing, athletic training and spanish—and three staff positions were also left open, saving $268,000. Staff duties were redistributed to existing employees.

The school also increased revenue with $243,000 in unexpected tuition.

Salary increases were reduced, saving $155,000, through a system giving the lowest paid employees the highest raise at 2 percent, going up the ladder to the highest paid employees who saw no raise, Vanney said.

"It was well received," he said.

The university trimmed $357,000 off the $14.3 million appropriation received from the state for a new heating plant. Vanney said the cuts were taken out of contingency costs and the project will continue as planned.

"Conceivable that allows us to move forward like we planned and hopefully if there's an issue we'll make that up in another year," he said.

Another $412,000 was cut by facilities delaying maintenance, $143,000 of which was for an addition to the W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse that won't move forward.

The president's cabinet made decisions based on department recommendations, Vanney said.

Due to departmental recommendations, $100,000 was cut from one-time spending, $20,000 was cut from the academic travel budget and $57,000 was cut from various things departments decided they could do without.

Mayville State University

Mayville State University President Gary Hagen said due to record enrollment reaching 1,110 students in the fall of 2015—a 47 percent increase from 2001—the school was in a position to absorb the cuts well.

"The faculty and staff worked hard for quite a few years now to put ourselves in this position," he said. "We resisted the desire to expand too fast, although we've grown quite a lot."

To address the $685,676 cut to Mayville State's budget, the Computer Information Systems program will be eliminated, saving $167,000. Hagen said the program also had low enrollment.

Each department was asked to reduce its operating budget, saving $31,943 and freeing up $240,000 that will go toward salary increases, which will average 3 percent for the entire campus.

The university is also refilling three positions that will come open due to retirements, but saving $40,000 by hiring people in a lower pay bracket. Another three faculty members took buyouts for early retirement, cutting $173,000 from MSU's budget.

One business office staff member buyout will cut $17,000 and Hagen said he is in conversation with UND about reconfiguring that position to share services.

By reducing deferred maintenance on campus, the school saves about $40,000 annually on utilities costs.

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