Despite 96% Increase In Funding Since 2003, NDSU President Claims His University Is “Grossly Underfunded”

NDSU President Dean Brescani, who has likened the state’s universities to “starving children,” has made the decision to close the university’s Center for Child Development.

Now, I’m not exactly sure what exactly they do at the Center for Child Development. Maybe it’s a waste of money. I don’t know. But I can say that the timing of Brescani’s decision is entirely suspect. I am convinced that this is a bit of political theater meant to be used as leverage in the on-going battle between the university system and the legislature over funding.

Despite the fact that the university system will still be getting a roughly 16% increase in their budgets, the claim from the university bureaucrats is that because they’re not getting the full 21% increase in funding that Governor Dalrymple called for their budgets are being cut.

Now Brescani is closing the Center for Child Development at his university claiming that NDSU is “grossly underfunded.”

NDSU is “grossly underfunded,” and recent action by the state House of Representatives puts a further strain on resources, Bresciani said.

See how that works? Brescani and all the higher education apologists in the state can bemoan the cuts in spending for the children that the evil legislators are pushing them to make. Convenient, no?

But if Brescani is right, and NDSU is “grossly underfunded,” then we need to launch an investigation into how it is that NDSU can be so short of fund when the university system in general has seen such massive increases in funding.

General fund appropriations to higher education have gone up 63% since 2003, and tuition revenues have gone up 36%:

And if we look at NDSU specifically, their General Fund appropriations have gone up 85% since 2003 with total appropriations going up a whopping 96% in that same time frame:

NDSU is most definitely not “grossly underfunded.” NDSU is lavishly funded. Rather than throw more money at NDSU, perhaps we need to ask how existing funds are being spent.

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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  • flamemeister

    Excuse me, but has anyone ever heard an educational institution say they have enough funding? It’s just the natural noise that they make, like pigs squealing and snorting.

  • The Whistler

    Maybe Brescani needs to rip the place down to make room for his new rec room.

    • Rob

      That’s a laugh line, but it’s also a good point.

      Why would we assume that the problem is a lack of funding? What about overreach? Maybe they’ve built too many buildings. And presidential mansions.

  • ndsu_parent

    The center is a childcare facility for kids 6 months to 5 years old. My younger daughter currently attends it, and my older daughter used to. The rooms are designed with research in mind, with observation rooms, closed-circuit audio equipment, and the like. The bulk of research was done by students in licensure-track early childhood development programs, but I understand that program has been shut down; other programs still interview children, observe classroom interactions and teaching methods, etc., but not to the extent that the cancelled program did. My younger daughter has been there just over 3 years, and I can recall offhand about 5 studies that we granted her permission to participate in (we never declined permission, unless we were out of town during the study time).

    The center is outstanding in terms of its staff, facility, logistics, and atmosphere. The cost is about $650 a month for a pre-school age child – I think it’s a bit more for an infant. Current NDSU students get waitlist priority, then faculty, then staff, then the public at large. I don’t know of any non-NDSU-affiliated parents whose children go there (though I could be wrong, I’m just not sure), and the waitlist is substantial.

    Details on the dollars needed to keep the facility open are sketchy. I’ve heard that it runs at a $330K annual shortfall, and I’ve also heard $132K (keep in mind the center’s research contribution when considering those numbers). Neither parents nor center staff were consulted prior to the decision being handed down yesterday.

    That said…

    A considerable group of parents are outraged by the President’s decision, and the email that’s been going non-stop this morning (pretty much every parent’s email address is available to everyone else – the result of openly sending newsletters and other updates from the center’s staff – one of the few qualms I have with the center’s operation) is predictably thuggish. They’re trying to organize a rally in support of the center for tomorrow. In the President’s front yard (I’m not sure what I think of that, considering the residence is on campus, but still, a man’s home is his home, and should be off-limits to protests). Of course, the parents want to bring their children to “show support” in what one parent called a “fun outing” for them (one timeslot they’re considering would require cancelling a long-planned field trip – which my daughter has been talking about for weeks). One emailer likened President Bresciani to “a dictator”, another insisted that “it is clear to me that he does not care about our children.”

    Only two parents have tried to be a voice of reason, and while not being shouted down outright, their plea for rationality is being ignored by the mob-squad. And one of the voices of reason is still whining like one of the center’s pre-schoolers, saying, “My discomfort in including children comes more from the principle of not using the children as a political tool, which is what I feel he is doing to us.” How exactly the President is using our kids as political tools escapes me, but hey, when the masses get excited, logic goes out the window.

    One of the parents drafted an open letter to the President, in part appealing to NDSU’s recent attempts to provide a “more equitable” employment atmosphere for female faculty as a prime reason for keeping the center open. Within the last 15 minutes, a cautiously worded dismissal was received, which bemoaned the “substantial lack of adequate state funding, which leaves no alternative but to make very painful resource utilization decisions about funding core academic activities versus service functions.” Of course, all the talk about the rally and the insults directed at the “dictator” and his political exploitation of the kids he purportedly doesn’t care about – well, those were circulated before the open letter was even sent to the President’s office. Yesterday, there was even talk about rounding up all the children and hosting a sit-in in the President’s office. Fortunately, that idea is off the table, but who knows what brilliant ideas the mob will come up with next.

    My opinion: if the shortfall is $330K, I don’t see how they can rationalize keeping it open. If it’s closer to the lower figure, I’m sure there are cutbacks they can make that would bring the number down to something that is justified by the center’s research contribution.

    I’ll keep you updated as events transpire…

    • Rob

      Thanks, please do keep us updated.

  • ndsu_parent

    One thought just occurred to me – the only way the “kids as political tools” argument makes sense is if the closure announcement is merely a ploy to make the legislature see that they’re cutting off funds “for the children,” as it were. If that’s what Bresciani is doing, then I suppose the argument is logical, but that seems pretty far-fetched to me, especially if the operational shortfall is toward the larger number.

    • Rob

      I don’t know why the two have to be mutually exclusive, but when Brescani couples his decision with baloney about NDSU being in fiscal crisis he’s making it political.

      If NDSU is in fiscal crisis the administrators of the university have some serious explaining to do.

  • OldConserv

    This is nothing more than a grandstanding effort. They’re using the kids as a tool to raise public ire in the hopes that the public will shift the blame to those nasty legislators who dare to cut universty funding.

  • Jimmypop

    as noted above, the facility is daycare for students and staff. if you cannot afford it, i think its discounted or even free. so, its another sneaky way to subsidize low income students and increase staff benefits.

    whether you support this daycare idea or not, its not the role of a school to provide free/ cheap/ handy daycare for staff and kids. these people need to do what the rest of us grownups did….go out and find it and pay for it yourself.

  • mark

    I actually have to agree with the comments here. And for me to agree with anything on this blog is quite the step. NDSU seems to have developed this obsession with competing with, and duplicating services offered at UND. Twenty or thirty years ago, each University had pretty clearly defined roles. NDSU just wanted to be bigger and better than UND and they have an effective lobby.

    • Rob

      I don’t think you have to go even so far as NDSU vs. UND rivalry to see that there’s something wrong about a university that is “chronically underfunded” after a 96% budget increase over the last 8 years or so.

  • Jett

    Wow. Free daycare. Guaranteed retirement benefits. The university psyciatry department using kids as guinea pigs…..What a utopia we live in.

    • ndsu_parent

      $650 a month is hardly free. Students MIGHT get reduced rates on a sliding scale, but every parent I know at the center is staff or faculty, and as far as I know, they all pay full price. The salary my family earns from NDSU is not paltry, but it’s not grand, either, and we didn’t even bother to check to see if we’d qualify for a discount. As for the guinea pigs comment – you’re asserting something that’s nowhere close to true, unless you think asking questions to identify at what point of development a kid understands the difference between living in the U.S., North Dakota, or Fargo to be the moral equivalent of human experimentation. And the retirement benefits included in my spouse’s plan are a defined contribution plan, just like the private sector’s 401k plan. I don’t pretend to defend the university’s actions here, but let’s stick with facts, not conjecture and bitterness.

      • NDSuperman

        If they are using the kids to teach students, which the students pay tuition for, and charging a day care rate, why is there a budget shortfall at all? How many other programs have that advantage? Some of the Ag programs I suppose…but wouldn’t it be like the pharmacy students making drugs in their lab classes and then selling them in a university pharmacy?

        And, if this is true, did the University discuss a rate increase to keep the center open?

        I wonder how long the program could have been funded if the president waited a few years to remodel his house?

        • ndsu_parent

          Great questions – wish I had all the answers. I do know that operating a daycare center profitably is very difficult to do, and I’ve heard the the center’s staff are better-paid than other they are at other facilities in town (frankly, they’re higher qualified, too – and tuition rates at the center are higher than other places). Who knows what their operating costs are, or what kind of grants they get from the departments who use the center for research – it’s probably a tough thing to quantify, which is why you get such wide-swinging numbers depending on who you listen to.

          There was no discussion with parents regarding rate increases, operational cutbacks, or anything like that. The center’s staff got the news Tuesday night, and parents had a letter waiting for them at Wednesday morning’s drop-off.

          As for your last question, it WAS a different president at that time, but your point is well-received; I’d refer to Rob’s comment that “if Brescani is right, and NDSU is “grossly underfunded,” then we need to launch an investigation into how it is that NDSU can be so short of fund when the university system in general has seen such massive increases in funding.”

  • Jett

    OK…So they charge parents. The retirement program for NDSU instructors isn’t like teachers or state employees who have a defined contribution plan. Dr Mengle isn’t testing on the children.

    But let’s do some quick math here and ask why this thing doesn’t make money?

    38 kids @ $650 a month = $24,700 a month.
    $296,400 total fee revenue.
    $7,800 per kid per year. That’s $3.75 per hour for a 2080 work year.

    6 or 8 student employees who pay tuition to “work”? Glad we’re handing out college degrees and prepping students for exciting careers as daycare workers.

    How many private day care providers could make this work if their staff actually were paying to offset their wages?

    This thing is a blackhole or non revenue producer?

    • ndsu_parent

      There you go – now you’re making some sense. Thank you! And actually, it’s 38 *families* – more like 60 kids, so your revenue numbers go up to around $468K, and don’t forget that infants cost even more.

      But I wouldn’t disparage people who want to prep for “exciting careers as daycare workers” (sarcasm noted); the students who work, intern, perform practica, etc. aren’t studying to be glorified babysitters, they are learning to develop curricula for childhood development. You’re talking about people who are going to design, run, and improve daycare facilities and learning models, not just wipe up vomit and mix fingerpaint. A little respect, please.

      • The Whistler

        Thank you for bringing your insights here.

  • ec99

    Want to know the priorities of any institution, private or public sector? Follow the money. While NDSU eliminates a program that at least has something to do with education, it funnels tens of millions into athletics at the D I level. And please, no “But athletics make money.” Even the NCAA admits maybe 4 DI schools barely break even. All the rest bleed red ink like a stuck pig.

  • ec99

    I have to admit I hate that pic of Brescani almost as much as I hate the one on Conrad’s mutt.

  • ndsu_parent

    The group of parents that have been emailing back and forth all day (52 emails today, around 20 yesterday – I’m about ready to power down my blackberry so I don’t have to deal with email any more today) are planning a “rally” in front of the president’s house at noon tomorrow – one guy called it “high noon”. Seriously, it’s like they think they’re at Columbia University back in the 60’s – they won’t even wait to see if the president agrees to meet with them to tour the facility and discuss alternatives to closing the center. Adults in the conversation are few and far between.

    • NDSuperman

      well said

      Are you going?

  • Nameis

    Perhaps we should compare enrollment between 2003 & 2011 at NDSU?
    I suspect that would more than justify the change in funding…

    • The Whistler

      We should compare the enrollment of North Dakota residents. North Dakotan’s
      shouldn’t be subsidizing the education of out of state students.

      • ec99

        So, what’s the solution? Limit it to ND students and you’ll have schools sitting empty. UND’s Aviation school is almost all out-state students. ND has already shown it has no intention of closing anything.

        • The Whistler

          But tuition is a small part of what it takes to get an aviation degree. The
          state doesn’t subsidize flying time for anyone.

          And in fact the out of staters NOT from Minnesota are paying at least close
          the actual cost of their education.

          So I think that aviation school thing is a bogus issue, which we should have
          known when Mike Jacobs wrote about it.

          • ec99

            Here are the facts: ND population +/- 640K. Institutions: 11. ND high school graduates: dropping for years. Now, under Kupchella at UND and Chapman at NDSU a major push was employed to recruit out of state students. Simultaneously, tuition was spiraled up double digits. But both schools had to offer enticements in the form of lower fees. Aviation is self-supporting due to what it charges for lessons, not tuition. It justs boosts the former when they want more money, and pay the instructors next to nothing. If you want all out-state students exempt from these enticements, they won’t come here. And, as I say, you’ll have a bunch of empty universities cost the state even more.

          • The Whistler

            So it’s cheaper to keep paying more and more to feed the beast?

            I don’t think so.

            Another area of huge waste are the tuition waivers.

          • ec99

            Paradoxically, yes it is. As long as ND refuses to deal with the glut of institutions, you try to fill them all with students no matter where they come from. Tuition waivers are part of the enticement. No doubt that NDSU went way overboard in regard to that, but people refused to recognize Chapman for what he was: an incompetent con man who got his boss fired because the SBHE was even more incompetent. Universities in ND have to put butts in desks.

  • Jimmypop

    NDSU President Dean Brescani is on am 790 now….and he just said one of the reasons the center is closed and could remain closed is because its not the states responsibility to provide daycare. WOW.

    like him or not, hes BOLD AS HELL saying this so bluntly. and hes right.

    • The Whistler

      Well good for him for at least being that honest.

    • ec99

      But it is the state’s responsibility to provide sports entertainment.

    • Rob

      Good on him for making that statement, but I still think his closing it is a ruse to leverage more money out of the legislature.

      • Jimmyop

        rob, im with you BIG TIME on this…..when this subsidy is eliminated forever, i will will believe it. until then, hes playing politics.

        • Rob

          Well, especially when he casts the cuts in the light of the House slowing the growth of his budget.

          Again, I think we need an audit of the universities if they’re “chronically underfunded” despite a 96% increase in total appropriations since 2003 (and that’s not counting tuition growth).

          Something stinks about that. If you had a business that was broke despite that level of growth in revenues you’d suspect that something was wrong. Embezzlement or mismanagement or something.

          • The Whistler

            I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a lot of misappropriation going on
            at NDSU.

            When they let Chapman off of any criminal charges (presumably because they
            didn’t want the black eye) they let everyone else connected with NDSU that
            they should grab as much as they can.