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Higher ed official: Colleges and universities taking a 'disproportionate share' of budget cuts

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The North Dakota University System’s chief financial officer said one of the big issues the System has with Governor Burgum’s executive budget request is with his proposed cuts to the funding formula.

Tammy Dolan told the state Board of Higher Education the Governor is proposing a 7 ½ percent cut to that funding formula – which provides all of the state funding to the colleges and universities. She said the system office would also be cut by that same percentage – except in the grants and scholarships areas.

"In total, that's about a $43 million decrease to the higher ed budget," Dolan said.

Dolan told the Board back in 2016 and 2017, there were budget allotments – which cut almost 20 percent from the funding formula. She said the system made adjustments for that.

"Our institutions did good things," Dolan said, "They tried to minimize student service cuts, they tried to minimize the impact on academics, and maintain that quaility. But there were almost 900 positions that were eliminated."

Dolan said some of those were unfilled positions, but others meant layoffs. And she said at the time, only a few academic programs were cut. But Dolan said this time could be different.

"Seventy to 80 percent of our costs are salaries and benefits," Dolan said. "The state funding provides for that core academic services, the core operations tghat can't be funded through any other means."

Dolan said because of that, the cuts would likely be very painful.

"They more than likely will deal with academic programs, and some other services we don't want to cut," Dolan said.

Dolan said staff and the colleges are still analyzing the impact. But she said it looks like the cuts would would be around 200 positions.

"Those would be critical positions," Dolan said. "There's not a lot of fluff anywhere, if there ever was. We're talkling more to the meat and bone here, instead of any fat that may be on top of it."

Dolan saids the Governor’s overall suggested reductions were about $61 million in general fund spending. She said higher ed is taking $30 million, or about half the cuts, even though it makes up only about 13 percent of the state’s overall budget.

"In my mind, it was disproportionate," Dolan said.

The 2021 Legislature meets, beginning in  January.

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