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Budget reductions hit hard at Bismarck State College

Published: Feb 13 2017
Budget reductions hit hard at Bismarck State College - Photo
As Bismarck State College (BSC) awaits a final budget from the North Dakota Legislature, the college’s decision makers vow to keep student services whole and continue high quality educational programming. A number of cuts since June allowed the college to meet the governor-directed allotment of 6.55 percent as well as the 90 percent budget submitted for the 2017-19 biennium. BSC budget adjustments since Jan. 1, 2016 include:

·         35 positions eliminated including one vice president (primarily through retirements and unfilled vacancies)
·         Ongoing hiring freeze
·         4% reduction to operating budget
·         Employee travel and training reductions
·         Implementation of a voluntary furlough ($35,000 salary dollars donated to date).
·         Men’s and women’s golf, soccer and women’s fast pitch softball programs eliminated
·         Delayed deferred maintenance and security projects

The third largest NDUS institution with 3,976 credit students and 26,094 non-credit students, BSC receives the second lowest funding per student making the reduction process even more challenging.  

“We receive 30 percent less state funding per student than the average received by other colleges within the North Dakota University System,” says BSC President and Interim Provost Larry C. Skogen. “We have always done more with less. We’re lean already, but we’re also team players so we’re figuring out how to be even skinnier. It’s hard.”

Skogen’s dual role as president and provost has been extended until the budget is finalized. “We don’t want to take on the expense of a search right now,” he says.

In addition to the reduction from the state, the college faces a potential $1.6 million tuition shortfall over the next biennium due to the slowdown in the energy industry. The college offers several nationally renowned energy programs. Even as traditional transfer student numbers have increased, a 22 percent decrease in online energy program enrollment from the industry has hit the college hard when combined with the state reductions.

“Our focus on energy education means that BSC, like the state, is partially dependent on a commodity,” Skogen says. “We know the industry will send its incumbent workers back to school again as their operations ramp up. But in the meantime, it makes things tougher.”

Protecting students from budget woes has always been a priority – in years’ past the college has raised tuition less than allowed. “When we were allowed to go up 2.5 percent we chose to raise tuition only 1.9 percent,” Skogen says.

To ensure that the educational quality and student services are not impacted, employees have stepped up in response to the situation.

“Employees take on additional duties as positions are eliminated and left unfilled, and 61 employees have volunteered so far to give up a day or more of pay as part of our voluntary furlough program. That’s humbling,” says Skogen.

Some of BSC’s most experienced people are working closely with students again.  BSC Athletic Director Buster Gilliss, has returned to his roots, adding head men’s basketball coach to his duties. A large number of faculty retirements in the liberal arts program areas at a time when liberal arts/transfer students are increasing, means many faculty are picking up extra classes. Even the president is teaching.  

“We needed someone for History of the Western Frontier, and that’s my background. So, I’m team teaching and I get to spend classroom time with our students – and it’s the best couple hours of my week,” Skogen says.

The current environment makes retaining staff and faculty more of a challenge. Because 76 percent of operations fall into the salary category, additional position eliminations are likely. Job insecurity combined with the likelihood that state employees will receive no raises for two years, is hard on employee morale and on recruitment efforts.

“Our community is growing, and we struggle to maintain competitive salaries, especially with faculty. First year faculty can earn more in K-12 than they can here,” says Rita Lindgren, Chief Human Resources Officer.

With this unprecedented budget reduction, Skogen says “everything is on the table” moving forward, including community programming.

“Sadly, we’re looking at cutting out our humanities outreach pieces – the symposium held every other year, the Conversations, the things that bring community in,” he says. “Unless alternative funding sources can be found, these programs will likely have to go away.”

According to Dave Clark, executive vice president, the community benefits financially from BSC’s activities and its students. According to a report prepared for the NDUS by NDSU’s Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics, the college had a $194.9 million direct economic impact to the region in fiscal year 2015.

“We educate students who not only contribute to the economy as students, but later join the workforce – becoming homeowners and taxpayers. Our events bring people to town. Education is not only personally enriching, it enriches the community,” Clark says.

BSC Fast Facts
·         3,976 for-credit students in technical and transfer programs
·         26,094 non-credit students
·         98% placement rate for graduates
·         82% of students are ND residents
·         $194.9M annually in direct economic impact
·         BSC receives 30 percent less state funding per student than the average received by other colleges within the NDUS.