The recent news that the North Dakota University System (NDUS) is requesting a 4% across the board increase for undergraduate tuition – the maximum allowed by state law – for its 11 colleges and universities comes as no surprise.
The North Dakota Legislature just completed a session which included budget cuts; causing State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) Chair Kathleen Neset to refer to them as "significant hits". But are the cuts enough?
The budget for NDUS in 2015 – 2016 was $1.43 billion. Of that figure, 31.3% came from the State’s General Fund. With enrollment around 61,000 students in the state’s 11 colleges and universities, that averages out to be about $23,400 per student for one year. This is not pocket change we’re talking about here.
Governor Doug Burgum asked a very straight-forward question that’s worth consideration, "Is our job to deliver the highest-quality education at the lowest price, or is our job to create jobs in communities?" That’s a difficult question for some to digest.
Nobody wants to lose jobs at a college or university in their community. And taking it further, nobody wants to lose a college or university in their community.
Nevertheless, at some point North Dakotans must face the reality that times are changing. Technology is revolutionizing the possibilities in education. As Governor Burgum has pointed out numerous times, "Knowledge transfer can occur anytime, any place, any location.” Many students no longer need the traditional classroom. Nor do they even need the traditional campus any longer.
I heard a state legislator comment recently that one of their children had received a degree from a university without ever stepping foot on campus. I think this is a positive that educational opportunities like this are now available.
Perhaps one of the first places that needs to be looked at, in terms of significant change, is the amount of administration our colleges and universities have. Look at their web sites and it just seems they are bloated with administrative positions. How many VP’s and Deans does an institution honestly need?
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. And to be honest, the Free Market would sort this out far better than the folks in Bismarck. Yet, I’m practical enough to realize that public education is not going away anytime soon. So, while we have it, we need to begin having a conservation on how to streamline, increase efficiency, and drive down costs.
Our Higher Ed system is outdated, too expensive, and in need of change. The sooner we accept that and address it; the better off our students and taxpayers will be.