A weak economy has forced administrators of colleges and universities nationwide to trim budgets.

However, Inside Higher Ed writer Kevin Kiley notes that  North Dakota’s institutions will get a sizeable increase in state appropriations.  That is because of the state’s recent “oil boom”.

Grant Shaft, a member of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education and its immediate past chair, gets funny looks from other states’ board members when he talks about his system’s plans.

“At meetings of the [Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges], there’s no question we’re the envy of everybody,” he said. “We go to breakout sessions and hear about the dismal economic crisis in each other state, and it comes North Dakota’s turn and we have such a different story.”

That’s because North Dakota, unlike almost every other state, is poised to make an unprecedented spending increase in its higher education system. The state’s governor has proposed a 14 percent increase — about $90 million — in the 11-campus system’s operating budget for the next biennium, as well as an additional $177 million in one-time capital expenditures. Politicians and education leaders hope an infusion of cash will help transform the system – which has struggled with inconsistent direction and leadership – into one of the country’s best.

The proposal stands out in higher education because most states are still cutting budgets in the wake of the economic downturn, which led to a 25 percent decline in per-student funding between 2006-07 and 2011-12, according to the College Board. At the same time, Republican lawmakers in other states have begun to question the value of state investments in higher education, with some calling for even greater austerity.

The situation in North Dakota couldn’t look any different. The state’s economy did not take any meaningful hit during the economic downturn that began in 2008, so the increases would come on top of decent budget years to start with. Recent developments in natural gas and oil drilling have dramatically transformed the economy of the western portion of the state, generating multibillion-dollar budget surpluses for a state of about 700,000 people. And Republican lawmakers are eager and excited to invest in higher education.