A proposal for a state Department of Higher Education drew questions Wednesday in Senate Judiciary Committee about its impact on universities. An attorney for state university system said it could mean a loss of accreditation.
House Concurrent Resolution 3047 would, if approved by voters in the 2014 general election, create the department on July 1, 2015.
University system attorney Claire Holloway told the committee that HCR3047 could cause the university system to lose its accreditation because it would violate one of the core accreditation standards of the Higher Learning Commission involving autonomy of the university governing board.
If the university system lost accreditation, it would make students in the state ineligible for federal student aid dollars, Holloway said.
“(It) would significantly affect the pocketbooks of North Dakota students,” she said.
Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, asked if Holloway could provide any information to prove her assertion. Holloway said she would.
North Dakota Student Association lobbyist Johan Mahlum said HCR3047 would eliminate the student seat on the state Board of Higher Education and students deserve a place on the board since part of the university budget comes from student tuition.
“North Dakota would be moving backwards,” Mahlum said.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who introduced the proposal, said the department would be led by a director appointed to a three-year term by the governor.
Carlson noted general fund appropriations for higher education have risen from approximately $364 million in 2003 to $912 million being discussed in the current biennium. He said that doesn’t include the $50 million for additional funding for the proposed University of North Dakota School of Medicine facility and close to $200 million for other building projects.
“We’re number No. 1 per-capita in the nation in commitment to higher education,” Carlson said.
With that level of spending, Carlson said, the Legislature has a responsibility to ensure accountability in where that money is going. He said he disagrees with the claim that the Legislature is trying to micromanage higher education.
“I don’t think this has the intention of doing that,” Carlson said.
Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, asked Carlson about the idea of three-year terms.
“Do you think that’s taking away some discretion of the governor?” Sitte said.
Carlson compared it to the current state Board of Higher Education and current Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s three-year contract and said he did not see the three-year term as a major political issue.
He added that if enacted, Shirvani may very well be approved as director of the new Department of Higher Education.
Shane Gerbert, government affairs officer for the University of North Dakota Student Senate, asked that the resolution, if approved, be changed to add a student voting member to the proposed Department of Higher Education’s board “so we have a seat at the table.”
No action was taken Wednesday on HCR3047. Sponsors of the resolution along with Carlson are Reps. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, Don Vigesaa, R-Cooperstown, and Sens. David Hogue, R-Minot and Donald Schaible, R-Mott.