Senate committees finalized

The Senate has compiled its list of committee assignments for the 2011 Legislature.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, will serve as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.  Sen. Layton Freborg, R-Underwood, will chair Education. Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, will chair Finance and Taxation.

Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, will chair Industry, Business and Labor. Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, will chair Judiciary. Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, will chair Human Services.

Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, will chair Government and Veterans Affairs. Sen. Stan Lyson, R-Williston, will chair Natural Resources. Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, will chair Political Subdivisions.

Sen. Gary Lee, R-Casselton, will chair Transportation, and Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, will chair Agriculture.

Lawmakers discuss physician shortage, remedial education

BISMARCK—North Dakota is projected to be short about 210 physicians by 2025, state lawmakers were told Wednesday.

As a result, the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences will ask the Legislature for more money this coming session to address the problem.

School officials presented a list of recommendations to lawmakers on the interim Higher Education Committee.

The school would like to add 16 additional medical student slots per year, 30 additional health sciences students and 17 additional residency slots.

Officials also would like a new health sciences building and want to create a geriatrics training program. Another recommendation is offering a master of public health degree in conjunction with North Dakota State University.

David Molmen, chairman of the medical school’s advisory council, said the state’s aging population and associated medical needs mean there has to be larger medical classes to meet demand.

Students who attend medical school in North Dakota and complete their residency in the state are more likely to stay in the state to practice, said Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“It’s essential to retain more of our own, to try to get as many of our students to train in North Dakota and stay in North Dakota,” he said.

A new health sciences building is No. 5 on the North Dakota University System’s 2011-13 list of major capital project priorities. The building is estimated to cost $28.9 million. Additional funding would be needed to grow the school’s programs.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, asked how many students are now turned away from the school each year. Wynne said there are five applicants for every one student accepted.

He said the school could increase class size by 16 medical students and still maintain the high level of students graduating now. There is also “substantial interest” from health care systems to expand residency opportunities, he said.

The proposals will be discussed further during the legislative session.

In other business, lawmakers approved a bill draft to research remedial education in the state. About 30 percent of North Dakota students entering college need remedial education, Sen. David Nething, R-Jamestown, said.

If approved, the study would look at where students needing remedial education graduate from, as well as the causes for it. The research would include a review of efforts to reduce the number of remedial education students at colleges.

The study would also look at the alignment of elementary and high school curriculum and textbooks with college admissions standards. A report would then be prepared for the 2013 Legislature.

The bill will now go forward to the 2011 Legislature for approval.

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.