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North Dakota Capitol

North Dakota Capitol in June 2018

Proposed legislation would return to the Legislature the authority for setting North Dakota college tuition rates.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, introduced House Bill 1536 Monday to the House Education Committee. A similar bill he proposed in 2015 failed.

"Our institutions of higher education in North Dakota do an excellent job," Koppelman said. "But we in the Legislature have a responsibility to control the cost of education just as we do the other costs of government and to seek to lessen the financial burden with which our students graduate."

Kim Koppelman

Kim Koppelman

Koppelman said colleges' tuition were previously set with budgets for state institutions of higher education, with input from the colleges and the State Board of Higher Education. 

"I believe that in the years when the Legislature set tuition rates in collaboration with the world of higher education in North Dakota that they didn't increase at the rapid rate that they have since," said Koppelman, describing tuition as "a piece" to "the burden" of student loans.

North Dakota University System Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan opposed the bill, pointing to "changing market conditions" and other factors within two-year budgeting cycles.

The State Board of Higher Education, in conjunction with each college's budgeting process, annually re-evaluates tuition rates and fees, she said. 

"The annual rate-setting process is very important, and it would be eliminated by the bill," Dolan said. "But it's critical for institution financial stability."

The university system oversees 11 public colleges and universities.

Bismarck State College President Larry Skogen also opposed the bill, questioning how the Legislature might charge different fees, such as for online students, for different schools. 

Larry Skogen

Skogen

"Will this body know for successive next two years what will be the student portion to operate each institution and how timely will these decisions be made?" Skogen asked the committee.

He also pointed to concerns with the state's two-year budgeting in the Legislature setting tuition as well as determining myriad student fees.

"How is all of this going to work?" Skogen said. "These are very weighty questions."

Lawmakers wondered about current tuition costs for campus and online classes and the history of rate-setting authority.

The committee took no immediate action the bill.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter