Education committee discusses tuition, Indian education

BISMARCK—A bill that would put the Legislature in charge of setting tuition rates at the state’s public colleges prompted a close vote on Monday.

The House Education Committee voted 8-6 to give House Bill 1470 a do-not pass recommendation.

Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, said there’s a lot of information that goes into determining rates, and legislators would need to turn to the people doing it now for guidance.

Rep. Joe Heilman, R-Fargo, said the Legislature already has mechanisms to put caps on tuition. Legislators don’t have time to be in charge of setting tuition, and there are more qualified people to help give legislators recommendations, he said.

However, Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said he thinks it’s the Legislature’s responsibility. Rep. Brenda Heller, R-Beulah, agreed, saying the State Board of Higher Education has been portrayed as being in a tree house in a big tree while legislators are on the ground.

“That’s what bothers me. We always get blamed, and they’re up there in their tree house making the rules,” she said. “It’s almost like they’re untouchable. If they would be a board that would be elected by the people, I might have a different opinion.”

Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Valley City, said he thinks higher education got the message of the bill.

The bill will go to the House for a full vote. 

Indian education

The committee gave a do-pass recommendation to an amended bill to study Indian education issues.

House Bill 1049 instructs the superintendent of public instruction to study these issues to develop criteria for grants to low-performing schools.

The study would look into the extent to which governance and collaborative models—including agreements with tribal governments, the Bureau of Indian Education and the state—have on improving student achievement.

The study would also look into whether success models are available, as well as if federal, state or local barriers exist that prevent schools and students from performing at high rates of achievement.

The bill requests $25,000 for the study and requires matching funds. The bill will go to the House for a full vote.

Senior citizens

A bill aimed at getting older North Dakotans into college classrooms has a do-pass recommendation after an age change.

House Bill 1385 would allow North Dakota residents age 65 and older to attend any undergraduate class at the state’s public colleges without paying tuition and fees.

They also would not have to demonstrate the academic achievements normally required of students.

These students would need to pay for books and supplies and would earn academic credit through the program. However, the ability to join a class would be limited to if there are open seats remaining after regularly-admitted students sign up.

The program would not apply to online classes.

According to the University System, increasing the age from 55 to 65 would mean a minimal financial impact on the system, Rep. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck, said.

The bill will go to the House for a full vote.