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Posted 1/27/10 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

During the 2008-2009 school year, North Dakota’s 11 public colleges and universities awarded $27.3 million in tuition waivers to more than 9,400 students, including many out-of-state and foreign students. And now the North Dakota Legislature’s Interim Higher Education Committee thinks that maybe there should be some additional oversight into these waivers.
And the interim committee is probably right in making that claim.
These tuition discounts are outright grants used to entice students, the vast majority of whom are not North Dakota students, to come to North Dakota for their education. And another important factor to take into consideration is that students who do not receive tuition waivers, as well as the taxpayers of North Dakota, are actually subsidizing the educational costs of those students who do receive tuition waivers.,
That said, there is also a strong argument for the need of tuition waivers.
In defending the use of tuition breaks, North Dakota college presidents correctly argue that these waivers for graduate students and students who arrive from outside the state and country help offer needed diversity, brainpower and provide economic benefits.
According to Richard Hanson, interim president of North Dakota State University, tuition discounting is an important tool used to recruit talented students to help in the university’s laboratories and research facilities.
No one will argue that having well-educated graduate students assisting in research labs is not important. Nor will anyone question the importance of having a culturally diversified student body to the overall educational experience for all college students.
Realistically, not even the interim committee or even the state legislature has a problem with the practice.
But still, there are troubling questions that have popped up that seem to warrant some further oversight by the Higher Education Board into how these tuition waivers are being used by the various state colleges and universities.
For example, according to an Associated Press story, North Dakota State University forgave 13.2 percent of its total 2007-2008 tuition  income in the form of tuition waivers, while the University of North Dakota only provided tuition breaks valued at 6.7 percent of its tuition. And then there is Dickinson State College which granted waivers totalling 21.1 percent of its tuition budget, while Bismarck State had waivers amounting to only one percent of its tuition revenue.
And that vast discrepancy between the percentage of tuition waivers being granted among the colleges and universities is one major reason someone other than the universities alone needs to review the tuition waiver process.
A second reason for increased state oversight of the use of these waivers is that North Dakota taxpayers provide the funding for the state’s higher education system and thus are also subsidizing these tuition discounts. The North Dakota Board of Higher Education needs to be able to assure the state’s taxpayers that they have a system in place that governs and monitors the amount and level of tuition waivers that are being offered.