North Dakota university leaders fear ‘catastrophic implications’ of new Minnesota free tuition plan

Jul 2, 2023, 9:09 PM

North Dakota Republican state, from left, Reps. Mark Sanford, Bob Martinson and Mike Nathe attend a...

North Dakota Republican state, from left, Reps. Mark Sanford, Bob Martinson and Mike Nathe attend a meeting of the Legislature's Budget Section, Thursday, June 29, 2023, at the state Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. The three lawmakers sit on a panel that wrote the 2023-25 budget for North Dakota's higher education system. Sanford also chairs the Legislature's interim Higher Education Committee, which will be exploring issues of potential impacts from Minnesota's North Star Promise tuition program. (AP Photo/Jack Dura)

(AP Photo/Jack Dura)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota higher education officials are deeply worried about losing students and revenue in 2024 when neighboring Minnesota makes public college and university tuition free for thousands of residents.

Officials estimate around 15,000 to 20,000 Minnesota students a year will use the free North Star Promise program, and North Dakota education officials are projecting an $8.4 million loss in combined tuition and fees in the first year alone, under one scenario.

Roughly 1,400 Minnesota students attending North Dakota colleges and universities might be eligible for the new program.

“This has catastrophic implications,” said David Cook, North Dakota State University’s president, at a recent State Board of Higher Education meeting. “This is a very serious situation for us.”

Minnesota students make up close to half the student body at North Dakota State in Fargo, their No. 1 out-of-state pick in their first year. They accounted for nearly 40% of the first-year students at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton in fall 2021.

“Probably half of our football team comes from Minnesota, so that’s kind of a big deal to us,” College of Science President Rod Flanigan said.

North Star Promise will cover undergraduate tuition and fees at Minnesota’s public post-secondary schools for students whose family income is below $80,000 after they’ve tapped other sources of financial aid. It will take effect in fall 2024.

Kari Rod, 38, of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, said North Star Promise will help her go back to college and finish her degree without taking on more student loans, and encourage her 13-year-old stepson to enroll in-state after high school.

“Our family had seriously considered moving” so the teen could take advantage of a program that covers college tuition for students who graduate from public schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Rod said. But after Minnesota’s program passed, they decided to stay.

The program also “opens up the world of possibilities” for her 5-year-old’s future, Rod said.

According to the Campaign for Free College Tuition, a national nonprofit, more than half the states now offer some kind of free college tuition, often with the word “Promise” in their program names. Seven set few eligibility limits.

Many others, like Minnesota, have income limits, have merit requirements, or are limited to specific schools or majors. The group says making higher education affordable for everyone is imperative to a workforce with the skills needed for the U.S. to compete in the global marketplace.

Democratic state Sen. Tim Mathern said he is drafting a bill similar to Minnesota’s program but for North Dakotans. He acknowledged the headwinds Democrats face in North Dakota’s Republican-supermajority Legislature.

“I don’t think we should decry what Minnesota has done,” Mathern said. “We should be spending our time being creative about what our abilities are.”

North Dakota education officials estimate it would cost over $17.2 million annually to pay tuition and fees for all students eligible for federal Pell Grants, amounting to about 4,300 students at five schools.

Minnesota’s move hasn’t sparked the same fears in other neighboring states. University of Wisconsin officials are expanding a free tuition program that started at its flagship Madison campus to 12 more schools this fall.

The presidents of North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota are leading a group to address the potential impacts of Minnesota’s free tuition on their schools, which are already recruiting students for fall 2024.

Lawmakers also plan to explore the implications through an interim legislative panel ahead of the next session in 2025.

“When we have all these alternate (education) delivery methods, and we have a traditional student base that is shrinking, and we have workforce issues — all of these things are creating an issue that’s bigger than a one-state response,” said Republican Rep. Mark Sanford, who chairs the panel.

Republican House Majority Leader Mike Lefor said he doesn’t want to “rush into a decision” on responding.

“We can’t just be reacting to different situations from different states,” Lefor told reporters. “We have to have good, solid policy going forward.”

North Dakota’s Legislature this year froze tuition statewide for all students for the next two years, a move meant to be competitive with neighboring states, including Minnesota.

Lawmakers need to respond while acknowledging that campus programs will still draw out-of-state students, said North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott.

“I’m confident we can avoid catastrophe,” he said.


Karnowski reported from Minneapolis. Trisha Ahmed also contributed. Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15

United States News

Associated Press

Man nears settlement with bars he says overserved a driver accused of killing his new bride

FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (AP) — Two bars accused of overserving a woman who authorities say drunkenly hit a golf cart carrying a newlywed couple away from their reception, killing the bride, have reached a tentative settlement with the groom, who was seriously injured. The Drop In Bar & Deli and The Crab Shack have agreed […]

21 minutes ago

FILE - Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan...

Associated Press

Prosecutors reveal a reason for Capitol rioter’s secretive sentencing: His government cooperation

A Pennsylvania man’s guilty plea and prison sentence for attacking police during the U.S. Capitol riot has remained under seal for months, but the Jan, 2021, siege. Prosecutors want to keep certain details of Samuel Lazar’s cooperation under wraps, but they have acknowledged for the first time that he supplied the government with information as […]

41 minutes ago

Associated Press

Four people have died in a plane crash near the Utah desert tourist community of Moab

MOAB, Utah (AP) — A plane crash outside the eastern Utah tourist town of Moab killed all four people on board, authorities said Monday. The plane crashed Sunday evening shortly after taking off from Canyonlands Airfield about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Moab, according to a Grand County Sheriff’s Department statement posted on Facebook. […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Kentucky man linked to Breonna Taylor case arrested on drug charges

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky man who was the target of a series of police drug raids that led to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020 has been arrested in Louisville on several drug-related charges. Jamarcus Glover, a former boyfriend of Taylor, was arrested Saturday on multiple drug offenses, including using juveniles […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Man who sought to expose sexual predators fatally shot during argument in Detroit-area restaurant

A 40-year-old Detroit-area man who posed as a 15-year-old girl on social media to identify alleged sexual predators has been fatally shot during an argument in a restaurant. Police arrested two males, ages 17 and 18, Saturday in Friday night’s slaying of Robert Wayne Lee of Pontiac, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said. Lee had […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Philadelphia journalist who advocated for homeless and LGBTQ+ communities shot and killed at home

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A journalist and advocate who rose from homelessness and addiction to serve as a spokesperson for Philadelphia’s most vulnerable was shot and killed at his home early Monday, police said. Josh Kruger, 39, was shot seven times at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help, police said. He […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Ignite Digital

How to unlock the power of digital marketing for Phoenix businesses

All businesses around the Valley hopes to maximize their ROI with current customers and secure a greater market share in the digital sphere.



At Ability360, every day is Independence Day

With 100 different programs and services, more than 1,500 non-medically based home care staff, a world-renowned Sports & Fitness Center and over 15,000 people with disabilities served annually, across all ages and demographics, Ability360 is a nationwide leader in the disability community.


OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

5 mental health myths you didn’t know were made up

Helping individuals understand mental health diagnoses like obsessive compulsive spectrum disorder or generalized anxiety disorder isn’t always an easy undertaking. After all, our society tends to spread misconceptions about mental health like wildfire. This is why being mindful about how we talk about mental health is so important. We can either perpetuate misinformation about already […]

North Dakota university leaders fear ‘catastrophic implications’ of new Minnesota free tuition plan