ND College Presidents Defend Tuition Discounts

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota college presidents are defending tuition breaks for graduate students and students who arrive from outside the state and country, saying they offer needed diversity, brainpower and economic benefits.

“Our tuition discounting is an important strategic tool … in terms of recruiting – recruiting the talent we need to operate in the laboratories, to recruit the talent we need to help with our research discoveries and technology development,” said Richard Hanson, interim president of North Dakota State University.

Hanson was among the college presidents who spoke Wednesday to the Legislature’s interim Higher Education Committee, which is exploring the impact of tuition waivers on the state university system’s finances.

During the 2008-09 school year, North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities extended $27.3 million in tuition discounts or waivers to more than 9,400 students, according to a university system memo presented Wednesday to lawmakers.

Of those, almost $24 million in discounts were given at the discretion of individual schools; the rest were required by state law or Board of Higher Education policy. For example, North Dakota National Guard soldiers get tuition breaks, as do college employees.

North Dakota State and Dickinson State University were the most generous. Dickinson State granted tuition breaks equal to 21.1 percent of its total tuition income during the 2007-08 year, while North Dakota State forgave 13.2 percent of its tuition. At the University of North Dakota, the amount was 6.7 percent.

NDSU’s recently reported $2.5 million budget deficit has prompted further scrutiny of its waiver program, and Hanson told lawmakers he is taking “a very close look” at the school’s policies. But Hanson said he regards tuition discounts as important to the school’s research success and the state’s economy.

“We create jobs, and we have impact, profound impact, on the economic development of the state,” Hanson said.

Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, said the Legislature may want to review restrictions on colleges’ ability to grant tuition breaks.

“Waivers, which all of us would concede are an important piece of the puzzle, nevertheless transfer to higher tuition rates for our own kids,” Andrist said.

Richard McCallum, Dickinson State’s president, said his school uses waivers to reduce out-of-state tuition rates to “just a little bit more” than what state residents pay.

The policy helps fill Dickinson State’s residence halls and provides more business for its bookstore and meal programs, McCallum said. Each student also spends an estimated $8,700 annually in the Dickinson community, he said.

“We are enriched by the multicultural perspectives that students bring to the classroom, and bring to our campus life,” McCallum said.

Andrist said state colleges and universities need to account for significant differences in their tuition discount policies. He noted to McCallum that the tuition percentage for Dickinson State’s waivers was almost three times greater than Minot State University, which forgave 7.4 percent of its tuition income.

“I’d like to have an understanding of why institutions that seem comparable to us, there’s such a large variation,” Andrist said.

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