This past week I was fortunate to attend the Association of Community College Trustees Leadership Congress in Chicago. It didn’t take long to realize that we, the people of North Dakota, are fortunate in many ways, and especially in our commitment to higher education.
The first night, the speaker from another state was proudly proclaiming their increase in retention rates at their community college. They had gone from 7 to 14 percent in one year!!! I was sure I had heard that wrong. They were proud of a 14 percent freshman to sophomore retention rate? What was I missing? As she spoke, she talked of broken homes, poverty, etc. They were hoping with their plan to provide an education with NO tuition costs for residents, those rates might go higher.
Bright and early the next morning, North Dakota State College of Science gave a presentation on retention and graduation rates to a packed room. President Richman, Melissa Johnson and Jane Vangsness Frisch from NDSCS talked about how they were not happy when their retention rate slipped to 63 percent, so they went to work. This year they are above 70 percent and expect that next fall they will be once again be over 80 percent. You could tell that students are of primary importance to these educators. This is where students go to succeed. I left their presentation so proud to wear my North Dakota nametag.
There were many great topics and speakers during this conference, so I had to choose each session wisely. I came away with two thoughts/quotes that I feel directly relate to us as we move ahead with our strategic plan.
- If a board is effective, the Presidents should feel the hands of the board on their back in support. They are not in this alone.
- The temptation to focus on the numbers of degrees is detrimental to the quality of those degrees awarded.
As I flew back to our great state, I realized how fortunate we are to be part of the educational experience in North Dakota. We are striving for 80 percent retention rates, not 20 percent. We are not telling our departments to cut 2-10 percent of their budgets, but instead we’re building a Medical School and a Law School. We have jobs for our students when they graduate, not poverty and crime. We have a Board committed to quality education and Presidents who are leading the charge to get us there. We are daring to be great – and I believe we are already on the way!