House committees finalized

The House has released its list of committee assignments for the 2011 Legislature.

Jeff Delzer will serve as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. Bob Skarphol is chairman of the Education and Environment Division. Blair Thoreson is chairman of the Government Operations Division. Chet Pollert is chairman of the Human Resources Division.

Robin Weisz is chairman of the Human Services Committee. George Keiser is chairman of Industry, Business and Labor. Duane DeKrey is chairman of Judiciary. RaeAnn Kelsch is chairwoman of Education. Wes Belter is chairman of Finance and Taxation.

Dennis Johnson is chairman of Agriculture. Bette Grande is chairwoman of Government and Veterans Affairs. Todd Porter is chairman of Natural Resources. Nancy Johnson is chairwoman of Political Subdivisions.

Dan Ruby is chairman of Transportation. Kim Koppelman is chairman of Constitutional Revisions.

Today’s story 2

BISMARCK – North Dakota lawmakers spent part of a Monday meeting expressing their frustration with the state university system while others defended it.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said he feels a need for change in higher education and said there’s public frustration about increasing costs and lack of accountability.

Skarphol said there may need to be a group created similar to the K-12 Commission on Education Improvement that addresses improving higher education.

“To simply add more money to continue to do what we’ve been doing and hope for different results is not good enough in my mind,” he said. “We need to change the culture somehow, both in the Legislature and in the higher education system altogether.”

Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, cautioned against indicting everything in higher education. He said the concerns he hears are specific to the construction of the presidents’ homes at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota.

“I really would hate to think this committee wants to come out and say that higher education is all gloom and doom because I don’t think it is,” he said.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, expressed concern about the spending requests for major capital projects at the state’s campuses. The North Dakota University System presented lawmakers with a list of 12 projects totaling $108 million.

“Where does it stop? Every session, this is what we get. It’s just more and more,” Dosch said.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said issues with capital improvements are being allowed to drive the agenda.

“We have failed to provide focus on all of the good things that are happening in the system. Those things never get the press,” he said.

Chancellor Bill Goetz said much of what has driven the university system in recent years is accountability measures created by legislation. He said the university system needs the support of lawmakers and hopes future meetings can be approached as a community working together.

Also Monday, legislators heard an update about the statewide longitudinal data system. The goal is to track students’ educational progress over time to improve educational processes and programs, said Lisa Feldner, chief information officer for the state Information Technology Department.

Nething said 30 percent of incoming college students need remedial education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and math. He wondered whether information gathered in the system would help identify the school districts where these students originate.

Lawmakers also heard an update on UND’s RuralMed program. Eight incoming freshmen medical students who sign up for the program can receive a full tuition waiver for four years of medical school if they practice in rural North Dakota for five years after completing residency training.

However, thus far, three students have signed up, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the medical school. Discussions have found students are interested but are leery of committing before they’ve had an opportunity to experience more schooling, Wynne said.

He told legislators he’d like to see the program modified so empty slots can be offered to students closer to completing the program who are thinking more seriously about career choices.

The Higher Education Committee will meet again next month to continue discussion of potential legislation.