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Tuition at NDSU to rise 8.8 percent

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BISMARCK, N.D. — Student tuition costs at North Dakota State University will jump 8.8 percent this fall, an increase that the school's president and student leaders argued was necessary to stop the potential elimination of academic programs.

The scheduled rise, the steepest by far among North Dakota's 11 public colleges, got the Board of Higher Education's 5-3 endorsement on Monday, despite worries that it would anger lawmakers who have pushed for a 2.5 percent cap on tuition increases for the next two years.

Dean Bresciani, NDSU's president, said afterward he was surprised the vote was close, given the support for the increase from Cam Knutson, the university's student body president, and other student leaders.

"I thought the university and the students, faculty and staff made an exceptionally compelling argument, and a desperate one," he said.

North Dakota State has the weakest state support when the school is matched against comparable universities in other states, and when state expenditures are calculated for each full-time student, Bresciani said.

The school has been reducing expenses despite enrollment growth and even lopped $1 million from its student aid fund, the NDSU president said. Knutson said campus buildings, including NDSU's main library, were open for fewer hours to save money.

"My fellow students are usually not in favor of sacrificing any more than the other institutions are, but during these times, we are willing to sacrifice even more to ensure NDSU does not begin to move backwards," Knutson said. "We are willing to tax ourselves ... to ensure that further cutbacks to our core programs do not occur."

For the 2011-12 academic year, NDSU's tuition for an undergraduate, full-time North Dakota resident student who is taking 15 credit hours per semester will rise from $5,639 to $6,135, an increase of $496.

The other five four-year colleges in North Dakota's university system are sticking to a 2.5 percent increase ceiling that was supported by state lawmakers when they drafted the system's two-year spending plan.

The University of North Dakota's tuition, for example, will increase $141 for the year, to $5,793.

The system's five two-year schools, which have relatively high tuition charges when compared to those in other states, will not raise tuition during the next academic year, said William Goetz, the system's chancellor.

Grant Shaft, who will become the board's president in July, said he was uneasy about levying NDSU's 8.8 percent tuition increase against North Dakota undergraduates.

Shaft said he had fewer qualms about raising tuition for all graduate students and out-of-state undergraduates.

"This is kind of a question where I don't see many answers, or a winner all the way around," Shaft said. "The argument becomes, which is the lesser evil."

Laura Glatt, the system's vice chancellor for administrative affairs, said Shaft's preferred approach could complicate North Dakota's tuition reciprocity agreements with other states. Bresciani said afterward the option was considered briefly in internal tuition debates, then dropped.

"It doesn't make sense. It's not good business for North Dakota," Bresciani said. "It would have implications that I just don't think we've had time to even study fully."