Recent campus cuts may sting, but Bismarck State College officials they have restructured and positioned themselves for success when the state’s budget climate improves.

Dave Clark, BSC's executive vice president, said tough choices were made to ensure the college would be able to continue to offer adequate services.

BSC will have a 2017-19 general fund budget of $30.7 million as compared to the previous biennium when BSC’s general fund budget as originally approved was about $38.2 million. Cuts were enacted even before the Legislature convened and continued throughout the session as state officials reacted to a slowdown in oil activity as well as lower agricultural commodity prices.

“We early on started the process of looking at the allotments and positions,” Clark said. “This was by far the most difficult exercise we’ve undertaken from a financial standpoint.”

The funding cuts to the North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities followed record high spending by higher education in the state.  

In response, BSC has cut 52 positions, many through resignation, retirement and voluntary separation agreements. Of the 52, he said 19 were people let go outside of those categories.

Some sports programs have been cut as well: the men’s and women’s golf and soccer teams were eliminated, as was women’s fast pitch softball.

Those that have remained in their jobs have had to increase their workload in order to cover the jobs done by those lost.

“You manage that situation the best you can,” Clark said. “The workload doesn’t necessarily go away. We’re asking employees to do more. People have an understanding of our situation.”

Still, it’s difficult to remain competitive and attract top staff and faculty without pay increases the next two years, another area the college will have to tackle, according to Clark, who did express some optimism about the long-term picture on campus, saying there’s been significant progress made over the past five years in the form of new and renovated buildings.

In addition, Bismarck continues to grow and has the largest K-12 student count in the state. As a result, enrollment levels should remain steady and at some point begin to climb again, he said.

“I think we’re positioned well for the future,” Clark said.

Job cuts, sports program eliminations and consolidation: Each campus has had to utilize these options and more to balance their books for 2017-19.

North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott said, despite the cuts required of each campus and the university system office, the Legislature and higher education leaders worked well together.

“We’re still going to be funded to the tune of $625 million,” Hagerott said of the general fund spending approved in Senate Bill 2003, the higher education budget.

During the 2015-17 session, the general fund spending approved for higher education was more than $876 million.

About 400 staff have been cut since the beginning of 2016 and another 400 are likely to be let go throughout the university system over the next two years.

“That’s a big impact on the human level,” said Hagerott, who conceded that BSC has worked hard to make reductions. “My hat’s off to them. They lost a lot of people.”

Hagerott said the focus system wide will continue to be on students, workforce development and areas such as cybersecurity, albeit in a more tightly constrained environment.

“We have to adapt to fiscal realities,” Hagerott said.

(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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