Joint meeting ‘historic’ between lawmakers, Board

February 4, 2016

Informational sharing meeting highlights challenges and successes for higher ed

Rep. Mark Sanford and State Board of Higher Education Chair Kathleen Neset listen to testimony during the joint meeting of the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee and the SBHE.

Rep. Mark Sanford and State Board of Higher Education Chair Kathleen Neset listen to testimony during the joint meeting of the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee and the SBHE.

An historic meeting took place this week that helped lay new foundations for higher education in North Dakota as the State Board of Higher Education and Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee heard updates on the university system.

During the morning meeting held at North Dakota State University’s Alumni Center prior to the regular SBHE meeting, lawmakers and Board members alike heard details on how university system representatives do everything from conduct student outreach to offering financial aid to what types of programs are available.

Kathy Neset, chair of the SBHE, called the meeting an historic event. She added that the Board greatly appreciated the input and shared vision from the legislators.

“This is an historic day that we are all working together and I will continue to say that we’re working together for the betterment of students and young people of North Dakota – that is truly our focus here,” Neset said. “This demonstrates a new spirit of collaboration between higher ed and the legislature. We all want what’s best for our students and the state of North Dakota. We’ll work together to achieve that.”

Later in the meeting, Rep. Mark Sanford, chairman of the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee, provided some statistics that helped paint the picture of higher education in the state, including how appropriations had increased since 2009 and tuition had leveled off. He noted that was due, in part at least recently, to agreements between the Board and the Legislature for the current biennium. He added that in the last few years the tuition rate had gone down when compared to the national average, the appropriation rate was “among the finest in the country” and operational revenue sources for the state were 12th in the nation.

“That gives you the reality of where we are today, which is probably pretty close to where we want to be,” Sanford said. “We’re doing a pretty good job of providing revenues for higher ed and its balanced out a little bit more to where we’re not as reliant on tuition as we used to be.

“It definitely gives us a jump-off point of where we want to go,” he added.

Presentations from NDUS representatives throughout the day’s proceedings included statewide student outreach efforts through the ND Choose initiative, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process and federal student financial assistance.

Following that were presentations on basic student costs and how they compared to regional and national averages, to include student tuition and fees, and student room and board rates. Later, details were provided on financial assistance programs from the state, such as state grants, state scholarships, and student loan and loan forgiveness programs.

Additionally, local financial assistance in the forms of institution scholarships and institution work opportunities were discussed at length before representatives moved into presentations on student debt issues and student success measures.

Richard Rothaus, interim vice chancellor of academic and student affairs, said that North Dakota had the some of the best transferability in the nation in regards to students being able to move between institutions. He added that it helped our students complete their own educations successfully, and ahead of national averages.

“Seventy percent of our students stay in North Dakota after graduation,” Rothaus said. “Nationally, less than 35 percent of students graduate within four years.”

Tammy Dolan, chief financial officer, said students within the university system’s 11 public colleges and universities typically fared better financially than the national average.

“Students from North Dakota graduate with less debt on average than the rest of the nation,” she said.

In the last hour of the joint meeting, healthy discussion commenced among members of the committee and the Board on waivers, having a diverse student body and more.

Rep. Roscoe Streyle began that discussion by asking after the value of providing tuition waivers to international students. Discussion covered ground on how bringing in international students was good for both the student body and the area’s workforce, as well as what they returned to the schools.

Board member Dr. Kevin Melicher added that nearly half of the 11 proposals for federal funding on research projects had come from international students conducting research at a state university.

Chancellor Mark Hagerott took the opportunity to provide a few details to the Joint Board on a study underway regarding tuition and fees, which included waivers. Hagerott added that the issue was complex and that the system was working on it diligently. He hoped to address the topic further at the educational summit scheduled for this May titled Envision 2030.

To close out presentations, the Legislative Council staff provided a memorandum summarizing historical student tuition rates throughout the university system and state appropriations for higher education.

All involved indicated their hopes for the joint meeting to be the first of many to come in the future regarding higher education in the state.