State support of higher education gains national attention

December 18, 2014

State Board of Higher Ed President Diederich

A column by Board Chair Kirsten Diederich

A recent article in US News & World Report featured North Dakota and Alaska as the two main states that have increased support for higher education since the national economic downturn. The author called this a stark contrast to the “worn and demoralized condition of public higher education in much of the rest of the United States.”

The article acknowledges upfront that one of the reasons North Dakota and Alaska have been able to do this is because our states are doing well financially, primarily thanks to oil and gas production. “But these two historically pragmatic and comparatively frugal states … have also determined that withdrawing support from higher education does more than force students and their parents to fork over more of the cost,” the author states. “They’ve decided that producing educated workers and supporting university research are essential to the continued success of their economies.”

In the article, David Bergeron from the Center for American Progress echoes that sentiment saying, “If you want to have a vibrant economy in your state, you have to invest in your people.” Bergeron also points out that financial support for public colleges and universities tends to stimulate wages and the creation of new businesses. If one looks at the growth in Fargo and Grand Forks, home to our research universities and many miles from the oil boom, there is no doubt in my mind that there is indeed a connection. We know from our biennial study that the North Dakota University System currently has a $4.8 billion economic impact on North Dakota, and we expect that to grow as our institutions work even closer with business to respond to the workforce needs of our state.

The State Board of Higher Education commends the Governor and the Legislative Assembly for having the foresight to invest in our colleges and universities as generously as they have. About 32 percent of our budget comes from the state general fund and 22 percent comes from tuition. The remaining financial support comes from grants, contracts and other funds. We are committed to being good stewards of this investment in our students and their futures, and in working with state leaders to make good decisions about the path forward.

Our new strategic plan, the NDUS Edge, outlines a five-year roadmap for achieving our vision to unleash the potential of higher education in the state. The four plan goals, launching in 2015, focus on the best ways to educate the current and future workforce in North Dakota. The Board is eager to move forward in accomplishing these goals through data-driven decisions, and our system’s progress will be transparently shared on dashboards on our website starting in December.

Higher education can be the magnet that attracts and retains the best and the brightest in our state. Working together with state, community and business leaders, we are creating a competitive edge – the NDUS Edge – for our students, for our institutions and for North Dakota.