BS Alert: GF Herald ignores facts about higher ed
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
BS Alert by Brett Narloch
Issue: Education

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The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about the growing number of non-resident college students in North Dakota. It mentions a couple of possible reasons why non-residents are coming into North Dakota:

High school juniors and seniors scouring online college guides find North Dakota universities are inexpensive and well-regarded, with modest-sized classes typically taught by faculty members rather than adjuncts or graduate students.

The most important take away from that quote is that tuition in North Dakota is inexpensive. Sure, there are probably more inexpensive colleges around the country, but they might not have the prestige that a state-sponsored university has. But make no mistake about it, they’re coming here because tuition is relatively cheap.

The Grand Forks Herald believes that the influx of non-resident students is a sign that state lawmakers have a good higher education policy.

As with anything, it’s important to get into the details of the arguments. In a nutshell, these are the arguments being made by the Herald:

  1. Higher ed policy has reversed ND’s population decline.
  2. Non-resident students will classrooms and budget holes.
  3. Fargo has benefited from having non-resident students live there.

First, it is silly to think that the state’s university system reversed North Dakota’s population decline. We commissioned a study by Dr. Richard Vedder, a nationally-recognized expert in higher education and economic development policy. According to the study, North Dakota lost 12,000 college graduates between 2000 and 2008, while the state’s population actually grew. This indicates that college-educated people are leaving North Dakota, while non-college-educated people are moving into the state. Census data shows that rural North Dakotans are moving to Fargo – which explains the big population increase there. Common sense tells us that people are also moving from out-of-state to the oil patch where they cannot fill jobs fast enough.

Secondly, there is a desperate need to fill classrooms and budget holes with non-resident students because the higher education system continues to build unnecessary buildings. If so many new capital projects were not undertaken, non-resident students wouldn’t be needed to fill those holes. In addition, because non-resident students do not pay the entire cost of their education, they are actually a budget drain, as more staff and other resources are needed to accommodate them.

Lastly, there is no doubt that Fargo has benefited from the state’s higher education policy. But economics tell us that the money being invested in higher education necessarily has to come from productive North Dakotans. So instead of a farmer having more money to spend at their local businesses in Harvey or Garrison, more money is taken from them via taxation and given to Fargo. New wealth is not being created, it’s being redistributed. That only exacerbates the problem of people moving from rural North Dakota to Fargo.

Mike McFeeley (KFGO) and I debated this issue on the radio. It’s worth a listen.

It’s common sense. You cannot take money from productive North Dakotans, launder if through an expensive, inefficient, and politically-minded bureaucracy, and expect that the money will be better spent than if it had not been taken in the first place.

Those who defend this wealth distribution are full of BS.