Congratulations, Graduates: you’ve dared greatly and succeeded

May 18, 2015

A column by Temporary Board Chair Terry Hjelmstad

A message by Board Chair Terry Hjelmstad

More than 7,400 students graduated this semester from a North Dakota University System institution of higher learning. At community colleges from Wahpeton to Williston and universities from Dickinson to Grand Forks, members of the State Board of Higher Education joined your family and friends in celebrating your achievement.

Theodore Roosevelt’s quote about surmounting challenges resonated with me as I reflected on our graduates and those who have supported them along the way: “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Our graduates have achieved that first step toward greatness at a faster pace and a lower cost than most students across the nation. While there are critics who would have you believe otherwise about our system, allow me to share my “view from the arena.”

North Dakota ranks 8th nationally in the percentage of adults 25-34 who have attained degrees. With 76,000 new jobs expected to be created in our state by 2020, and 72 percent of those jobs requiring postsecondary education, we’re excited about opportunities for our graduates.

Our four-year campuses retain 71 percent of their students from their first year to their second year, compared with 61 percent on a national level. Our community colleges retain 62 percent of their students, compared with 58 percent nationally. This is critical to a successful college experience and speaks volumes about the quality of education that students are receiving in North Dakota.

Student retention strategies, which are built into our five-year strategic plan and were supported by the Legislature in the biennial budgeting process, should help us make even greater, measurable strides. With a plan for the future of our N.D. education system and the dreams of our graduates coming to fruition this week, we can all be proud of what has been accomplished.

We know it’s not unusual for students to change their minds about their career choice during college. Studies show that 80 percent of college students change their majors at least once, and the average is likely closer to changing majors three times, which makes it harder to graduate in the traditional four years. Using measures that track students who start and finish at the same institution, our community college graduation rates are higher than national averages; while our universities are slightly lower.

It’s important to remember that, unlike many other states, North Dakotans have 11 choices to fulfill their potential within the university system. Students often start at a college close to home and finish at another college in the state. When we use measures that track students from enrollment to graduation, our graduation rates are well above national averages. It is our goal to create an even more seamless process that allows students the flexibility to transfer to another school within the system. We want our graduates to choose their path to success, and it’s our job to make that happen.

Costs at our four-year institutions average $775 per year less than the regional average. For a master’s degree, that number translates to savings of $943 per year, and $746 per year for doctoral students. The exception is for some of our community colleges, which are slightly higher when compared to similar institutions. However, because we collaborate on credit transfers, students who have achieved their initial goals at community colleges complete at a rate of 74 percent, more than double the national average.

Your education is a wise investment in your future and our goal is to provide students the best possible return on that investment. Affordability is a high priority for us, and North Dakota has long been favorably compared to other states in the region and especially across the country when it comes to tuition costs.

A national group concluded that an education at a North Dakota university provides the best bang for the buck in the country. At the top was North Dakota State University, providing a 9.5 percent annual return on investment over 20 years. In-state students at the University of North Dakota had the second highest rate of return at 7.4 percent. Another national study called “Where Value Meets Values” reported that community college graduates receive nearly $5 in benefits for every dollar they spend on their education, while the return to taxpayers is almost six to one.

Congratulations again; thanks for choosing the North Dakota University System, and best wishes as you find your next arena in which to dare greatly and thrive!