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%:


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 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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  • Tim Heise

    Bad idea

    • Rob

      The only bad idea about Oversen’s bill is the $25 million she wants to give them as compensation.

  • jimmypop

    budget freeze. if they want more money, they can charge the kids.

    • Rob

      I agree, but the legislature will be blamed for the tuition increases, even though the university system is swimming in money.

  • RCND

    Maybe they just need to be privatized without taxpayer money. Then they can run like a business and ensure the product they offer and price they charge for it will be worth the exchange of money paid for it by their customers

    • Rob

      That’s the problem with all the taxpayer subsidies. It obfuscates their duty to the students. They can abuse the students with run-away tuition and fees because, thanks to our subsidies, the market will bear it.

      Government involvement in higher education has made higher education worse.

      • Guest

        Do you approve k-12 school vouchers?

  • nimrod

    Price control measures always have unintended consequences.

  • Alan

    Given the current funding model in the state the tuition freeze with compensating funding is fair. The legislature provides roughly seventy percent of the “approved” pay increases and operating expense levels recommended by the Governor. The other thirty percent is expected to come from increased tuition increases. that is a dirty little secret most people do not know.

    With that said there are plenty of ways to save money at the institutions and in the System. The problem is no one wants to have the System operate as a cohesive unit. funding is allocated to the institutions and they have no reason to save taxpayer money. The only real solution is to have funding allocated to the System, the funds allocated from the Board and the legislature, Governor and citizens whole the System accountable. As it is institution excesses are discovered, most blame goes to the Board and Chancellor and then the institutions get the funding right back in the next cycle.

    Until the public and the legislature is willing to break the cycle by supporting a strong Chancellor and have the System function as a unit the wasteful cycles will continue indefinitely.