Democrat Proposes Tuition Freeze For North Dakota University System

New Chancellor

Rep. Kylie Oversen has introduced HB1328 which would apply a two-year tuition freeze on the North Dakota University System. It would lock in place 2013 levels of tuition until June 30th 2015, and it would provide a $25 million appropriation to the university system to offset the lost revenues.

Which is a little ridiculous given the huge tuition increases over the last decade, not to mention the dramatic increase in taxpayer funding. But more on that in a moment.

Naturally, the university system (which believes itself to be a branch of government unto itself) is rejecting the idea that the legislature has the legal authority to do any such thing:

Chancellor Hamid Shirvani stood in opposition to the bill, citing state law and portions of the constitution to illustrate how a legislative-mandated tuition freeze would infringe on the state Board of Higher Education and University System’s authority over the state universities.

Shirvani said capping tuitions “erodes constitutional authority” and “takes away necessary flexibility to ensure we meet the needs of our students in the state for future generations.”

Just another argument for ending the independence of the university system.

But Rep. Mike Schatz referenced the state’s huge increases in taxpayer funding for the university system, and asked when the tuition increases are going to stop. Rep. Mike Nathe pointed out that that a tuition freeze may be in the works without a compensating appropriation:

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-New England, pointed out to Shirvani that the Legislature provided the University System $389 million for the 2005-07 biennium and $652 million in 2011-13.

“When is it going to stop?” he asked.

Chairman Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, who has seen a version of the bill many times, told Shirvani the Legislature is getting closer to passing a tuition freeze with no funding to colleges to offset the lost revenue after many years of the Legislature increasing the higher education budget, seeing tuition increases and hearing testimony to cap any tuition hikes.

“We’re a lot closer there now than we were two years ago,” Nathe said. “If nobody gets a handle on this, we’re going to go down that road sooner or later, and it won’t be a pretty picture with the Legislature saying we will put up with the heat.”

That’s tough talk from legislators, but I’ll believe it when we see it. Anyway, let’s illustrate the problem. As you can see from this chart, based on an open records request from the university system, tuition increases over the last decade have been dramatic especially for in-state students:

chart_1 (1)

And, even as tuition exploded, taxpayer funding of the university system has increased 150% while enrollment has grown just 8%:

highered-640x392

The cost of the university system to taxpayers and students has grown almost exponentially over the last decade, many times faster than the growth in enrollment.

I’d like to hear legislators ask the university system where all the money is going.

Given the trends above, I think the university system ought to be getting both a tuition freeze and a budget freeze, forcing them to start prioritizing some of the tax dollars they’re already getting. Because they have more than enough now.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. 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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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