Construction cranes sprout like stalks of wheat from the windswept, tabletop-flat campus of the University of North Dakota.
More than a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of new facilities are going up here or have been opened in the last few years. Another $80 million is being spent at North Dakota State University, an hour and a half south in Fargo, where carillon bells blare the fight song every afternoon at 5. And $179 million more was approved for public universities and colleges statewide by the last session of the legislature, along with $12 million for research and nearly $40 million for raises and increased operating and utility costs.
A stark contrast to the worn and demoralized condition of public higher education in much of the rest of the United States, these bustling campuses populated by purposeful students are exceptions that prove a troubling rule:
In a time of frantic calls to raise the number of Americans with university degrees who will be needed to feed the globally competitive knowledge economy, only two states – North Dakota and Alaska – have increased spending per student on higher education, when adjusted for inflation, since the economic downturn, according to the independent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The rest have cut their public universities not just slightly, but by a dramatic 23 percent, on average, the center reports. In Arizona, Louisiana, and South Carolina, funding is down by more than 40 percent since the start of the recession. <Read more.>