Early enrollment numbers at Minot State University are fluctuating, said President David Fuller on Wednesday. He said projections suggest the final count for this fall might be even with the final enrollment count for the fall of 2011, when the university experienced a 6 percent drop in enrollment. There was a 7 percent drop from the previous year for the spring semester.
Fuller said there was a drop particularly in the number of transfer students, older than average students and in students from Ward County.
The university had been warned to expect continued declines over the five years following last year's catastrophic flood. Fuller attributes the drop in students numbers to the continuing flood recovery as well as to the housing shortage.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • Minot State University President David Fuller said the university faces another round of budget cuts in the 2012-2013 school year.
"Finding affordable housing is one of our big challenges," said Fuller, noting that the issue impacts some faculty members as well as students.
Minot State's dorms are nearly full as of Wednesday, with only a few beds remaining open of its 735 bed capacity, and surrounding university-affiliated apartments are also full. The university is referring students and some faculty members to local property management companies, keeping track of any openings that might come up and trying to persuade owners to offer lower rents to MSU students and faculty, with varying success.
"There are many apartment complexes going up (but) they're all pretty darn expensive," said Fuller.
Fuller said the university must focus more than ever on recruiting new students and retaining current students.
However, the drop in enrollment means difficult choices lie ahead, including a 3 percent budget cut for the 2012-2013 school year on top of the 3 percent across the board budget cut that was made in 2011-2012.
Fuller said this round of cuts will be more targeted and will not hit every department. A committee will take a close look at areas that might be consolidated or be made more efficient as well as cuts that might have to be made. Fuller said he does not want to cut full-time positions but would prefer to avoid filling open positions or to cut certain part-time positions if needed, but it's too early for him to say that some job cuts might not be necessary.
Fuller also said changes that new North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani has proposed for the North Dakota University System could have a sizable impact on Minot State University.
Shirvani proposes a three-tiered system for the system's 11 public colleges and universities, with defined roles for each. Community colleges would have open admission and handle all remedial classes and dual credit classes taken by high school students. Fuller said Minot State gets a fair amount of tuition revenue from high school students taking dual credit classes at the college and many of those students eventually enroll at Minot State. Under Shirvani's proposal, which would take effect in the fall of 2013, students in the Minot area would likely take their dual credit classes through Dakota College at Bottineau, but would still be offered on the Minot State campus. Minot State does still offer some remedial courses, though many of those classes have been shifted to Dakota College at Bottineau in recent years.
Another change that could affect Minot State's revenue stream would be changes in how tuition is charged. Fuller said Shirvani proposes a move to a fee per credit model. Currently Minot State students pay a set tuition for 12 credits and can take up to 17 credits without paying an additional fee. Under the proposed changes, students would pay a certain amount per credit, more depending on the class or the program they are enrolled in. Fuller said some programs are more expensive to offer than others and he can see the rationale for charging more for a nursing or a communication disorders class than for a class that requires less equipment. Such a change could also potentially cost students more for tuition or cut down on the number of students who decide to enroll at MSU.
Shirvani also proposes changes in the tuition rates charged to out-of-state and international students and a reduction in the amount of tuition waivers that can be offered. Minot State currently reserves 10 percent of tuition for undergraduate tuition waivers offered to students on the basis of financial need or academic promise. That enables them to offer about $1.2 million in tuition waivers. Shirvani's proposal would reduce that to 5 percent, cutting in half the amount of tuition waivers that MSU can offer to attract students.
North Dakota students would be charged the resident rate for tuition; students in contiguous states and provinces would be charged 150 percent of the resident rate and international students would be charged 175 percent of the resident tuition. Fuller said that would take away some of the existing tuition incentives for out-of-state and international students that have helped attract more students to the campus and have brought more diversity to the campus.
Fuller said Shirvani is seeking feedback on the proposal from colleges and universities. Fuller asked his university vice presidents to seek comments from their departments about how this could impact Minot State.
Fuller also said he plans to seek additional funding from the State Board of Higher Education and the 2013 state Legislature to help make up the budget shortfall in the wake of the flood and the ongoing oil boom. Some additional funding might also be called for to help certain programs grow even as others are streamlined. Fuller said the university can't currently afford to hire new instructors in communication disorders because it is so expensive and it is also hard to find instructors for the nursing program, because there is a shortage of nurses who hold doctorates.
Minot State is in good shape and has been a good steward of the state's money, said Fuller, who said he has no fears of any potential state audit. Minot State has good managers who have helped the university avoid the problems that have plagued Dickinson State and North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota in the past year, said Fuller.
Fuller also spoke during the convocation about the value of a liberal arts education, even as universities put more emphasis on job training and skills. "Education is not necessarily filling buckets, but lighting fires," said Fuller, quoting the poet William Butler Yeats. He said students who are able to view a scene such as a flock of birds with awe and curiosity will go on to ask other questions and explore the world. The ability to think and ask greater questions will lead to more success in their later careers. Fuller said it is a professor's "grand responsibility" to spark that curiosity in their students.
Fuller emphasized that Minot State remains an excellent university with excellent professors and top quality programs that will continue to serve its students to the best of its ability.
Classes start Monday at Minot State.