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Subcommittee endorses higher education tuition freeze, other amendments

The Education and Environment subcommittee of House Appropriations is endorsing an amendment to the higher education budget bill – that freezes tuition at the state’s 11 public colleges and universities.

Instead, the state will pick up what would have amounted to a four percent annual tuition increase for the upcoming two years. That will cost $47 million.

A modest tuition increase would be allowed in certain high-cost programs.

"I think it's a great message to send to our kids," said subcommittee chair Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck). "We find ourselves in a financial situation where we can do this. We just have to make sure we do it correctly, and it doesn't come back to bite us."

Another amendment adopted by the subcommittee deals with university presidents who are non-renewed or fired.

Because presidents have a contract, the university has been paying off the last six months or a year after the president is non-renewed. The amendment says instead of the money coming from the institution, it will instead come from the University System Office budget.

"If the University System, i. e. the Chancellor's office is responsible and accountable, and makes the decisions when it comes to funding a severance package, that should be picked up by their budget, rather than the specific university or college picking that up," said Rep. Steve Swiontek (R-Fargo), who proposed the amendment. "They (the universities) don't have any say in that."

Swiontek said what brought the amendment was the severance package given to former NDSU president Dean Bresciani, as well as the budget issues NDSU is now facing. President David Cook had announced the merging of some of its colleges and departments, as well as potentially eliminating some majors, as it faces a $10.5 million shortfall.

"That was the starting point," Swiontek said. "But it's important that, going forward, any university would also be able to be reimbursed by the system office."

The amendments will likely be presented to the full House Appropriations Committee in the next week or so.

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