Holmberg speaks at Minot Area Chamber of Commerce meeting

The interim higher education committee may be taking a closer look at who should receive state-funded college scholarships, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, told members of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee on Friday.

Holmberg said the impetus for the discussion is a September article in the New York Times Magazine that questioned providing scholarships based on merit instead of on need. According to the article, recipients of merit scholarships tend to be high achievers from middle to upper income families who would have gone to college anyway and may eventually end up leaving the state.

Under the North Dakota Academic/CTE Scholarship Program, students receive state-funded scholarship based on grades, including those in required courses. Scholarships awarded are for up to $1,500 per year, with the possibility of receiving up to $6,000 over the course of a college career, provided students keep their grades up and meet all the requirements of the grant. The state also provides some funding for needs-based tuition grants, given to students who demonstrate economic need.

Holmberg said interim committee members might discuss whether more funding should be directed toward needs-based tuition grants to help students most in need of the financial assistance.

The interim higher ed. committee meets regularly throughout the year, in between legislative sessions, and discusses topics that might be raised during the next legislative session.

At the upcoming December meeting, the committee is scheduled to discuss common core standards for K-12 education in the state and the implementation of the Pathways to Student Success program in the North Dakota University system. The discussion will include how K-12 and college standards can be connected and how colleges will report back to their students’ home high schools on how successful the students have been at the college level.

Other discussions will include college tuition and fees, a discussion of national and state student loan and debt information and on North Dakota scholarship programs.

Holmberg said legislators are interested in hearing about what is going on at colleges and universities in the state between the legislative sessions and not just in getting reports from college administrators.

Holmberg expressed some frustration with the university system and how difficult it is to make changes in policy.

“Too often, process is more important than product,” he said, recalling how it took several years to make a change in how colleges determine which math classes students needed for a degree. All of the colleges had a different procedure in place and it took them much discussion before the same policy was instituted across the system.

Holmberg said some of the drama earlier this year surrounding the North Dakota University System and the Board of Higher Education perhaps distracted people from what is happening in higher eduation. Former chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who was ousted after less than a year, took criticism for some of the changes required under the university system’s Pathways program, said Holmberg, but many of those changes were under way before Shirvani ever took the position. Holmberg said Shirvani appears to have been “Inadept at public relations.”

Holmberg is head of the North Dakota Legislative Management Committee and also serves as chairman of the standing appropriations committee. He serves on the interim budget section, higher education funding, legislative procedure and arrangements and water topics overview committees.