Minnesota will offer free college tuition to low- and middle-income students. This is bad news for North Dakota universities and colleges, which have long relied on the funds brought to the state by students: “This has catastrophic implications,” North Dakota State University president David Cook remarked at a recent State Board of Higher Education meeting. There are 21 North Dakota universities in the said state.
Officials believe that 15,000 to 20,000 North Dakota universities and college students will participate in the free North Star Promise program each year, and North Dakota education officials estimate a $8.4 million loss in combined tuition and fees in the first year alone, under one scenario. The new program may be available to approximately 1,400 Minnesota students attending North Dakota universities and colleges.
The expected losses are a few million dollars in a state with an annual budget of $7 billion or more, with hundreds of millions spent building remote roads so all the guys at their barely-taxed oil businesses may ride in comfort. According to reports, North Dakota could achieve the same thing as Minnesota for only $17.2 million. It is no one else’s issue that they run their colleges on the budget and business model of a highway fast food outlet.
Democratic state Sen. Tim Mathern said he is developing legislation for North Dakota universities that is similar to Minnesota’s scheme. He acknowledged the difficulties Democrats have in North Dakota’s Republican-dominated legislature. “I don’t think we should decry what Minnesota has done,” Mathern added. “We should be spending our time being creative about what our abilities are.”
Nearly half of the students at North Dakota State University in Fargo are from Minnesota. According to one official, they make up 40% of the Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton – and probably half of the football team as well.
However, not all of those North Dakota universities’ students will be eligible for North Star Promise. The program, which was approved by the Minnesota Legislature this session and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz, will provide free tuition to students from households earning less than $80,000 per year.
North Dakota universities officials estimate that paying tuition and fees for all students eligible for federal Pell Grants, totaling around 4,300 students at five schools, will cost more than $17.2 million per year.
The decision of Minnesota to have a free college tuition plan will have a great impact on North Dakota universities as they rely heavily on students’ tuition.