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BISMARCK - Faculty pay and the pros and cons of reciprocity agreements were two of the familiar themes rehashed Monday during the North Dakota University System's initial legislative hearing.

While the House Appropriations Committee hearing was an all-day affair, most of the testimony was preliminary in nature and centered on general higher education matters.

Each university will have a chance to introduce its budget individually this week. North Dakota State University leads off this morning. UND has its hearing Wednesday.

State Board of Higher Education President Jack Hoeven began the day by stressing accomplishments made by the university system in the last year despite a string of controversies.

Let me assure you that the vast majority of effort on our campuses is focused on providing learning, research and service, Hoeven said. That is how it should be.

Faculty representatives joined Hoeven in testifying that progress had been made in improving the system, particularly in the area of faculty salaries.

Funding revenues have provided some hope for us, said Lynn Severson, a Bismarck State College faculty member who served on the university system's compensation committee.

We have turned the corner recently, and that is not lost upon us, Severson said. Now we need to go forward.

But Severson didn't draw legislators an entirely rosy picture. Faculty salaries have stabilized but still lag behind national and regional averages by as much as 42 percent at the doctoral level, Severson and University System Chancellor Larry Isaak said.

In contrast, Severson noted after the 1982-83 academic year, faculty salaries were only 8 percent behind the region, with salaries at UND and NDSU at or above regional campuses.

University system documents showed average pay for faculty at doctoral institutions in North Dakota was $42,000 in the 1996-97 school year. The national average was $59,500, while the regional average was $55,700.

At two-year institutions, average pay in North Dakota in 1996-97 was $33,400, compared with a national average of $42,800 and a regional average of $38,400.

While Isaak and Severson said the state's benefit package for university employees was a strength of the system, Isaak noted that university faculty don't see a significant cost of living advantage in North Dakota.

Isaak backed up that point with a chart from the American Chamber of Commerce Research Association that showed Grand Forks with a higher standard of living than Lawrence, Kan., St. Cloud, Minn., and Des Moines, Iowa - all college towns.

Fargo, Bismarck and Minot were also listed as more expensive places to live than several college towns around the country, including Omaha, Neb., and Oklahoma City.

After 12 years as an English teacher at BSC, Severson told committee members her salary was $32,000 a year. Rep. Rex Byerly, R-Williston, noted that was still a good salary for North Dakota.

Byerly said average salaries in North Dakota are around $20,000 and it's hard for him when he goes to the local coffee shop to argue that college faculty are underpaid when they work nine months of the year.

Longstanding debate Legislators clashed with one another, and with Isaak, on the benefits of reciprocity agreements, a longstanding debate at the Capitol.

Because the pool of high school students in North Dakota will diminish over the next 20 years, Isaak said the system would depend more and more on recruiting students from other states. He said this would keep costs down for North Dakotans by helping universities and colleges pay their fixed costs.

Most of the out-of-state students are Minnesotans, who can attend UND and North Dakota State University at North Dakota resident rates.

Minnesotans may attend other schools in North Dakota at marginally higher than the state rate.

Minnesota also makes a cash payment to North Dakota because more Minnesotans attend North Dakota colleges than vice versa. For the 1997-98 academic year, Minnesota paid $4.1 million.

Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said reciprocity agreements sound like subsidies for out-of-state students to him.

He said the agreements encourage the system to never decrease anything and never cut costs.

After the meeting, Isaak said nonresident tuition rates are something that's always analyzed. He said the agreements maintain strong enrollments and help contribute to fixed costs.

Past legislators have seen that as a good deal, Isaak said.

Last year, several Minot-based proponents of an effort to eliminate reciprocity agreements hoped to add a constitutional measure to the November 1998 ballot. Their petition failed to get enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.

Students across the system have been asked to accept tuition hikes included in the governor's budget. The largest increases are $150 a year at UND and NDSU.

UND student Diane Lochner, president of the North Dakota Student Association, said students accepted tuition hikes in the past with the understanding that the state's investment would also increase substantially.

Students are asking the state for a reliable and stable input in this partnership, Lochner read from a prepared statement. We cannot carry it on our own.

Source: Grand Forks Herald  January 12, 1999


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