BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota university officials raised doubts Monday about a pair of bills that would cut state spending on college students from outside North Dakota, arguing the measures would hamstring colleges and may not save money.
One measure would require schools to return some state aid they receive based on how many out-of-state students they have. Another would set a minimum tuition price for nonresident students.
Supporters of the proposals say they would reduce the subsidy that North Dakota taxpayers pay for out-of-state students.
But William Goetz, chancellor of North Dakota's university system, said bringing in students from other states improves the state's work force and economy. Without the out-of-state students, enrollment in many North Dakota colleges wouldn't be high enough to offer some academic programs and classes, he said.
"Without these students in our system we wouldn't have the critical mass to have programs, teach classes and make classes available to our resident students economically," Goetz told the North Dakota House's Education Committee on Monday. "If you think higher ed costs are high now, what would our costs be if we didn't encourage nonresident students?"
Neither bill would affect students from neighboring Minnesota. The tuition Minnesota students pay to North Dakota colleges is set by a reciprocity agreement between the two states.
One measure would require schools to divide the amount of state aid they receive by their enrollment to determine the amount of taxpayer support per student. That per-student amount would then be multiplied by each college's number of nonresident students. The college would then have to return the money that supported nonresident students to the state treasury.
That would equal about $100 million every two years that would be returned to North Dakota's general fund for the university system's 7,500 nonresident students, according to a financial analysis of the proposal.
Dustin Gawrylow, director of the North Dakota Taxpayer Association, said he supported the legislation.
"This addresses the long-time question: How can we fund North Dakota students rather than funding the university system?" Gawrylow said.
The second measure would require each North Dakota public college to calculate its average cost for educating a student. That amount would then become the minimum tuition cost a nonresident student could be charged.
"This allows for North Dakota students to get an affordable education without subsidizing out-of-state students," Zack Tiggelaar, an economics student at the University of North Dakota, told the committee. "It allows you to provide your constituents what they want most, for their own students to get the upper hand."
North Dakota's university system estimates the bill would cut nonresident enrollment by more than 6,000 students, costing the schools $48 million per year.
Laura Glatt, vice chancellor for administrative affairs for North Dakota's university system, said the colleges' fixed costs, such as utilities and teacher salaries, aren't tied directly to enrollment. Having fewer nonresident students wouldn't necessarily mean lower costs, she said.
"The question is: At what point do you get rid of enough students that you start collapsing some of those variable costs like entire sections of classes?" Glatt said. "If an English class goes from 45 to 30 students, you don't really save anything. You just spread the cost over fewer people."