Minnesota is to implement a free college tuition plan for low- and middle-income students there. This is bad news for colleges in North Dakota, long dependent on the money that students there used to bring to the state: “This has catastrophic implications,” North Dakota State University’s president David Cook said at a recent State Board of Higher Education meeting.

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.

The projected losses are a few million dollars, in a state with a $7bn+ annual budget, with hundreds of millions spent laying rural roads so all the guys at their barely-taxed oil companies have a nice comfy ride. North Dakota could do the same thing as Minnesota for only $17.2m, reportedly. That they instead run their colleges with the budget and business plan of a highway fast food plaza is no-one’s problem but their own

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.”

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