North Dakota Senate Votes For Higher Education Status Quo


The North Dakota Senate today had before it HCR3047 which was introduced by House Majority Leader Al Carlson. In it is original form as passed by the House this amendment would have replaced the Chancellor and the State Board of Higher Education with a Director of the Department of Higher Education appointed to three-year terms by the governor. The governor could have removde the director at any time with cause (that’s important, currently the governor can’t remove his appointments to the SBHE), and the director would have administered the university within the scope of laws passed by the legislature (also important as the current structure of the university system pretty much puts it outside of the reach of the legislature in all policy areas except budgeting).

The Senate hog housed the resolution with an amendment moving to a full-time, three-member higher education board to replace the current larger board and the chancellor position. The board members for the new triumvirate would have been nominated and appointed in the same fashion current members are, but the constitutional independence of the university system would have been ended. This was done, carrier Senator David Hogue explained, to alleviate concerns that the original bill may have put the accreditation of the state’s universities at risk (a red herring; Hogue himself dismissed the idea later in floor debate).

Sadly, even this watered down version of reform for the governance of higher education couldn’t pass the Senate. It failed on a 23-24 vote. Here’s video of the floor debate:

Let’s be clear about the problems that face higher education in North Dakota.

First, the academic outcomes in the North Dakota University System are atrocious. Just over 1/5th of our four-year students actually graduate in four years. Just half of them are graduating in six years, and when Chancellor Hamid Shirvani attempted to communicate those numbers to the legislature clearly he came under fire from politicos loyal to the university presidents for “manipulating” data.

Our university system values quantity over quality, promoting policies that pack campuses full of students (using tens of millions in tuition waivers, among other policies, to accomplish it) while exercising very little control over academic outcomes.

Which brings me to my second point: The cost for this poor performance is accelerating both for the taxpayers and students. Even with some modest adjustments made to higher ed budgets in the House to slow down spending growth, the university system is getting a windfall from this legislature which is even larger than the windfalls they received in previous sessions (you really have to ask where all the additional money is going when you see that enrollment growth is relatively flat):


And all this state spending has done little to hold tuition in check. Tuition has roughly doubled at most of the state’s institutions over the last decade, with in-state students carrying the brunt of the increases:

chart_1 (1)

In short, we’re getting poor academic outcomes from a university system for which costs to both taxpayers and students are skyrocketing. And when the current State Board of Higher Education, along with the chancellor they hired, tries to act as something more than a rubber stamp for the status quo, the university presidents flex their political muscle and thwart the efforts.

Just so we’re clear, after two years in which the university system has been guilty of lying to the legislature, perpetrating diploma fraud on a massive scale and generally performing in a subpar manner the legislature is going to reward that system with a huge budget increase and no reform.


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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  • kevindf

    The state sacred cow lives on as usual.

  • borborygmi

    Socially Conservative/ Fiscally Liberal…….has to be a version of hell for libertarians.

  • Roy_Bean

    It’ time for an initiated measure.

    • Rob

      I agree.

    • camsaure

      I agree also, While I don’t really care for laws being implemented in this manner, this one is very necessary as the legislature, particularily the senate is not working in the best interest of the state and public. They still are resorting to their cronyism. Shameful.

  • Blobert Portly

    Don’t let the truth get in the way of your tired recycled inforgraphics there Rob. Have you bothered to actually look for the information instead of making stuff up. Looks like the academic outcomes are pretty average to me and the costs are lower than most states.

    • Robert D

      Look at NCES data and not the cooked data of NDSU.

  • ND Observer

    This claim of your is not accurate: “…the academic outcomes in the North Dakota University System are atrocious. Just over 1/5th of our four-year students actually graduate in four years. Just half of them are graduating in six years,” Many students do not plan to graduate in 4 years, so judging them on that 4 year standard is just plain malicious. There are many reasons for ,more than 4 years, including students who are getting a double or triple major to be more competitive in the marketplace, going to college part-time because they work 30-40 hours per week, and others wish to have other experiences including study abroad where key classes for graduation are not available. The students, parents or colleges should not be blamed for not graduating in four (4) years if they have no intention of graduating in 4 years.

    Having said that, the graduation rate does need to improve and be higher than 55%. Colleges should find ways to retain students at a much higher rate, students need to take college more seriously and parents needs to hold their children more accountable. When a college accepts tuition and fees, they also accept a responsibility to the student to help them succeed. They are often are not so great at that, and administrators do dumb things like be aggressive with noise and alcohol ordinances thus killing careers in one hand while accepting tens of thousands of dollars for career success in the other. Shameful.

    • Robert D

      Many students cannot graduate in four years because the institutions play games by making it hard to get into certain clases for graduation. Having too many variances regarding “core” courses pre major so even of a student changes majors during this core period they are stuck taking additional hours. The transfer requirements among institutions are a joke. This system needs an overhaul and unless this Chancellor is allowed to succeed I say put a ballot initiative forward that also requires the replacement in two years of every president in the university system.

      • ec99

        Beginning with Kupchella, UND put enormous effort into growing enrollment, while keeping faculty numbers flat. More TAs and adjuncts were hired to cover the lower level courses, but they don’t teach 3rd and 4th level. Thus the latter offered the same number of sections for considerably more majors. UND wins both ways: lower faculty expense, 2 extra years of tuition. Of course, being an advertisers, UND has never been subject to a Herald article on this practice.