Chancellor Shirvani: “Trust Us” Because We Haven’t Screwed Anything Up In The Past Six Months


North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani was on Chris Berg’s show last night and got asked some tough questions about higher ed costs in North Dakota. Berg even had on hand a recent North Dakota State graduate who is more than $60,000 in debt.

The thrust of Berg’s questioning for Shirvani? How can you justify the cost of higher ed in North Dakota to students with huge student loan debt while university officials rake in big budget increases and huge salaries?

Awkwardness ensued:

Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

At one point Berg asks Shirvani for two examples of how he’s going to cut costs in the university system to keep tuition and fees down. Shirvani’s answer? The university system wants am existing legislative cap on fee increases made permanent. “That’s how serious we are,” says Shivani.

Supporting the extension of legislation that already isn’t doing much to keep costs down for students isn’t exactly evidence of “seriousness” when it comes to cost controls in this observer’s opinion.

Shirvani also says he has a plan to increase 4-year graduation rates at NDSU by 15%. He says that graduating students faster will lower their debt levels. That’s true, but then increasing NDSU’s four-year graduation rate would take the school up to about 37%, meaning 63% of students in four-year degree programs still wouldn’t be graduating in four years.

Pardon me if I’m not willing to throw Shrivani a parade for hitting such a low-set goal.

The NDSU graduate’s comments were interesting. On one hand, I don’t want to excuse students for choosing to obligate themselves to debt. Nobody put a gun to their head. They knew, or should have known, the deal going in. That being said, these students are being sold on the idea that a college degree is a golden ticket to a better sort of life. Increasingly, it isn’t, and it’s hard not to feel some empathy for students who commit themselves to a lifetime worth of debt only to find that their degree might not have been worth it.

And it’s got to be hard to swallow that pill when university administrators like Shirvani are pulling down six-figure salaries and getting budget increases like those in the chart below.

Shirvani suggests the solution for struggling students is more state aid for tuition. And of course a higher ed administrator would say that. That aid ultimately ends up in the university’s coffers, doesn’t it?

We don’t need to figure out how to give more money to these people, who are already swimming in it. We need to figure out how to get them to do their jobs more efficiently, and with less pomp and circumstance.


Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roy_Bean

    We can trust them. They promised to sell the plane, didn’t they? They were completely honest about how they funded the plane, weren’t they?

  • JW-American

    We could…. ask Alumni donors to donate to scholarship funds rather than building up the foosball team, or building an indoor track and field building or donating 1 million dollars to the prez’s house or to fuel the prez’z plane. Scholarship funding like they do at Concordia and other private schools helps keep tuition down, at the same time it keeps the school accountable for costs and students tend to study harder to make themselves eligible for a grant next semester or year.

    But what am I thinking, the school needs to rebuild the BSA, it needs a fancy ass alum center, it needs a dozen or so VP’s the Alum must be a pile of dupes.

    • Rob

      We could…. ask Alumni donors to donate to scholarship funds rather than building up the foosball team, or building an indoor track and field building or donating 1 million dollars to the prez’s house or to fuel the prez’z plane.

      That’s crazy talk.

  • reggy

    If you rack up $60K in debt going to a public institution, you’re an idiot. Get a part-time job, stop spending like you’re rich, and don’t spend 7 years going to school. I can be sympathetic for people who have a reasonable amount of debt and are struggling to get out from under it. $60K in school loans isn’t reasonable by any metric.

    • John_Wayne_American

      What was his degree in? something that pays 40K if he’s lucky enough to find a job?

    • Dustin Gawrylow

      The trouble is that when you are in college, about the most hours you can get are about 30 hrs/week, and from 2000-2005 in Bismarck and Dickinson the most that kind of schedule could get you was $7.25/hr. Ya make more in the summer, but that goes to other things too. So, the job pays the rent and the groceries, not much more. $60k in debt doesn’t make you an idiot, it means you fell into the trap the system builds for students.

    • Rob

      $60k might be unreasonable by ND standards, but even the average debt ND students carry (I think it’s just under $30,000 state wide) is ridiculous, and has everything to do with out-of-control costs and an unhealthy attitude about higher ed we embrace.

  • KJUU

    What? “We’re going to get kids through in four years instead of (insert number here), so they won’t have such crushing debt” ??? What does that even mean? Define “crushing debt” to someone who graduates and still can only find a minimum wage job, if that, outside of the state of North Dakota? Five thousand? Ten? Twenty? What does a man who makes $350K think a “crushing debt” is to someone just starting out?

    After all, $500K on an airplane is chump change and an “investment”. The world turned upside down, I tell you.