A North Dakota Republican thinks there are too many colleges in the state

A North Dakota state legislator says that there may be too many schools in the state — but once liked school choice

Published June 27, 2017 4:41PM (EDT)

University of North Dakota Gamble Hall (WikiMedia)
University of North Dakota Gamble Hall (WikiMedia)

Is North Dakota too educated? That's the question one state Republican wants to answer.

Republican Rep. Rick Becker told the state Board of Education Tuesday he thinks the state has too many colleges, adding the state should try "repurposing some of the campuses."

Becker, an alumnus of the University of North Dakota, blamed "parochialist economic development" for the plethora of schools — two research universities, four regional universities and five community colleges, according to the North Dakota University System — adding that they were established when there were "little white school houses every couple of miles."

He noted the proposition was "a hard pill to swallow," as his assertion received no comments from the board.

But in a 2015 interview with Grand Forks Herald, Becker claimed he was an "advocate" of choice in education, arguing that it "brings in that free-market component."

"If parents can choose where to take their kids, that brings in the element of competition, and schools will compete to provide the best environments and outcomes for the children,"Becker said while on the campaign trail for a failed run at governor. "And you can’t ask for more than that."

Becker may have an ulterior motive for wanting to reduce the number of higher education facilities in  North Dakota. In January, he supported HB1265, a bill that would hike tuition rates for out-of-state students and restrict the number of their acceptances to the state’s public colleges. The bill targeted students from Minnesota who, according to Valley News, make up 45 percent of NDSU's population. Becker told the local news source he didn't want the state's colleges to become "the Kmart of higher education."

This isn't Becker's first attempt to influence the university system in North Dakota. In February, Becker introduced HB1329, a bill banning safe spaces on college campuses. His proposed bill would, ironically, protect free expression on campuses and even an on-campus free speech "bill of rights." During his testimony,  Becker claimed safe spaces protected students "from any sort of academic rigor" and created a "mob mentality" when opinions diverged. He said there was "no end" to the speech safe spaces prevent, concluding the bill will prevent the presence of "political correctness gone crazy."

The House passed HB1329, but stalled in the Senate.

After two separate hearings, the House did not pass HB 1265.

By Alessandra Maldonado

Alessandra Maldonado is an editorial intern at Salon. You can find her on Twitter at @alessamberr

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North Dakota Rick Becker School-choice University Of North Dakota