Fall semester is fully back in swing at all of North Dakota’s 11 colleges and universities, and I’d like to take the time to say, “Welcome!” Welcome to all our new freshmen. Welcome to our international students and those who’ve transferred here from out-of-state, or from private schools. And welcome back to all our thousands of returning students! The 2015/2016 school year holds promise for us all.
The North Dakota University System and State Board of Higher Education have been working through the summer break to ensure that our system is running smoothly and efficiently so that all our students are given the best education possible. We’ve also been working on some tasks that seek to make the system more inclusive, at the same time that we’re working to make sure it adheres to the highest standards set for higher education.
One larger, immediate strategic task is in facilitating educational opportunities for workers who face a slowed economy in the western part of the state, and in finalizing details for the upcoming visit from the Higher Learning Commission. It requires diligence on our part, and when successfully completed, will mean great things for the system and for the state.
The task is an initiative that we’re referring to as “Bakken U” and is focused on the five colleges and universities in the west. Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Minot State University and Williston State College are all focal points for this initiative, as they’ve been greatly affected by the oil boom and hold the likeliest educational opportunities for oil patch workers finding themselves looking for just that.
So it’s an exciting and energizing time.
Additionally, our teams within the system have been working toward implementing many standardized processes, beginning the long conversation about re-energizing our hard work to increase freshmen retention, and creating more options or opportunities for the sharing of services among campuses. That’s not to mention the two presidential searches that are ongoing at opposite ends of the state at DSU and the University of North Dakota.
As part of my listening tours around the state, I’ve had a great opportunity to hear from community leaders already. In particular, my takeaways from those listening sessions have allowed me to learn that state leaders want the system to work in cooperation with the legislature and with the business community, want to see increases in efficiency and want students to graduate faster and with less debt. Additionally, they’d like to see more graduates to help fill the tens of thousands of open positions, and for them to stay in the state for the long haul.
I feel fortunate to have heard numerous perspectives so far from the many stakeholders of our system – from lawmakers to business leaders to the students themselves – and I reflect on those perspectives often in the process of finalizing decisions on behalf of our system. I’m looking forward to learning more in my upcoming visits to the campuses, and to once again see the excitement and energy of our college and universities back in action for their Fall semesters.