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North Dakota Oil Boom Not Keeping up with University Repairs

The Bakken oil boom is making North Dakota rich! Too bad its universities are falling apart:

Students returning this week will attend classes in buildings without adequate ventilation or fire detection systems and in historic landmarks with buckling foundations. A space crunch is making it difficult for researchers to obtain grants and putting the accreditation of several programs at risk, administrators say.

“It’s embarrassing,” said North Dakota state Representative Kathy Hawken, a Republican from Fargo who sits on the higher education funding and budget committees. “We have a divided legislature on higher ed: Some think we put too much money into it and some think we don’t put enough. Buildings aren’t people, so we don’t put dollars there” [Jennifer Oldham, "North Dakota Universities Crumble as Oil Cash Pours In," Bloomberg, 2014.08.26].

Moving that money from petro-tax revenues to classrooms is complicated: Oldham reports that 30% of the money is locked up in a state trust fund until 2017, while another big chunk goes to municipalities. The $300 million the North Dakota Legislature gets faces competition from road needs. While the universities need $808 million in repairs, the state also needs $925 million to fix roads statewide over the next two years, including $485 million for repairs to industry-battered oil-patch roads.


  1. jerry 2014.08.29

    Very good report Cory, and it shows very clearly that the states that have all of this glut of minerals exported are still broke with the only winners being the mineral companies themselves. The only clear way for states to realize the bottom dollar of energy production will be is for renewable energy. Once the sites are built, that is pretty much it. There are no convoy's of trucks that beat the pavement to death nor are there the pollution that comes from them either. Last I looked, we have zero emissions of methane and other toxins from wind chargers. I am sorry for the students of North Dakota as I am sorry for the students in South Dakota, surely we can do better for them all.

  2. Lynn 2014.08.29

    This is amazing with the boom ND is having and the bad shape education is in there.

    Jerry I'm happy that North Dakota is having an economic boom but I fear they will pay a heavy price
    including environmental issue in years to come. Sorry just being very skeptical.

  3. jerry 2014.08.29

    It does seem though that the economic impact on the state is somewhat segregated though. As the article notes, things like education, infrastructure and the like are being short changed. It would seem that the state, knowing that funds will be available in a couple of years, could make and sell bonds to fund the necessary improvements. Investors would know that they would basically have an ironclad guarantee on their investments. What the other factor that is really not discussed to much is how little the tribes are receiving for the minerals removed from controlled lands.

  4. Jon 2014.08.29

    The Three Affiliated Tribes and its current chairman, Tex Hall, successfully pressed lawmakers in the last Legislative session for an equal cut of oil production taxes, saying the extra money was needed to address issues caused by drilling that were unforeseen when the pact was first signed. The new tax agreement went into effect in September already has netted the tribe nearly $62 million in three months.

    The tribe received $131.8 million in fiscal 2013, while the state got $176.8 million, under the old agreement, data show. The state's share in fiscal 2012 was $113.4 million, while the tribe collected $74.6 million.

    The state's share of oil taxes from reservation land is divided among counties, cities, school districts and a number of state funds and programs.

    In addition to the oil money, the tribes get $60 million to $70 million annually in federal aid.

  5. jerry 2014.08.29

    Good news Jon, thanks for the update.

  6. Nick Nemec 2014.08.29

    I trust Tex Hall to wisely spend oil tax dollars more than I trust the ND Legislature to spend them wisely.

  7. John 2014.08.30

    While much truth exists in the story of the neglect of ND's higher education infrastructure - the bigger and unaddressed story is the refusal of the "local control" dogma to modernize and update higher education delivery. ND's 14 universities and colleges came from the horse and buggy era. Glance at Wyoming which has but one four-year college and a few two-year regional feeder schools. The Wyoming model is efficient and effective. Before ND turns a firehouse of oil money on its 14 colleges it must first decide which 3 to 5 to keep then shutter the rest.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.08.30

    14 universities and colleges? Wow—I thought South Dakota led the nation in public campuses per capita. How many of those 14 are full four-year schools? Does that 14 include vo-tech campuses?

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