North Dakota colleges fear Minnesota’s free tuition plan will hurt their enrollment

Beginning in fall 2024, Minnesota will make public college and university tuition free for thousands of residents. The North Star Promise Scholarship program will cover “the balance of tuition and fees remaining after other scholarships, grants, stipends and tuition waivers have been applied” for students whose household income is less than $80,000.

But presidents of North Dakota colleges are concerned about the impact this new program will have on their enrollment numbers — especially considering there are already ongoing enrollment challenges.

Speaking before the State Board of Higher Education on June 27, North Dakota State University’s president David Cook said the North Star Promise program “has catastrophic implications,” reported the Associated Press. “This is a very serious situation for us.” According to Cook, 52 percent of NDSU students come from Minnesota.

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.

Fall 2021 enrollment numbers show Minnesota students accounted for nearly 40 percent of first-year students at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, according to the Associated Press.

An interim legislative panel is expected to convene before the next North Dakota legislative session in 2025 to explore potential impacts. This past session, lawmakers froze tuition statewide for all students for the next two years to keep up with competition in neighboring states.

The presidents of North Dakota State and the University of North Dakota are also spearheading a group to address potential impacts on their schools, according to the Associated Press.