The State Board of Higher Education took positive steps forward this week when it moved to roll back certain fee increases at Williston State College. It was also on the receiving end of a positive speech by Sen. Rich Wardner, a retired educator and the majority leader for the 63rd Legislative Assembly.
Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Laura Glatt and Chancellor Mark Hagerott brought an amended budget guideline to the Board regarding Williston State College’s fees. Substantial discussion among Board members, Hagerott, Glatt and WSC President Ray Nadolny took place on the history and the original thinking on the fee increases and what could be done to make them more reasonable for students.
Glatt listed the types and amounts of varied fees. She noted that while they had gone up significantly, the WSC Foundation had also put in place a scholarship for Williams County graduates that helped pay for yearly tuition and fees for nearly a third of the student body. Those $6,500 scholarships helped free up other scholarship monies to make available to students who had not graduated from Williams County. She said that the increase of fees had been put into place with student government approval and it didn’t negatively impact each student.
She then spoke about the financial challenges facing WSC in recent years, such as those in athletics, food service, the bookstore and a dorm building capital project. Another substantial challenge existed in the potential loss of a federal subsidy and not having a reserve for repair and replacement of facilities.
Hagerott said regardless, the fee increases would need to be addressed properly, and that it was a clear example of creating better communication with legislators to stave off surprises.
“We’ve got incredible innovation on our campuses and they have great partnerships with their communities,” he said. “We’d like to make sure we’re communicating clearly and effectively to our legislators so that they’re not surprised when things like this happen.”
After considerable discussion on the topic and input from Nadolny, Board member Kevin Melicher moved to direct WSC to roll back 50 percent of the fee increase beginning in the spring of 2016. He was seconded by Board member Nick Hacker and the motion passed unanimously.
‘Burying the Hatchet’
Near the end of the regular meeting, Sen. Wardner spoke to the Board about problems it had faced in recent years and the Board’s relationship with the legislature. He said that the legislators appreciated the time commitment from the SBHE on all topics regarding higher education in the state as it was the largest industry here with direct economic impacts on many communities. He said he was encouraged that a new day had arrived, and it was time to move forward.
“I really appreciate what the chancellor has done to kick this off – going around and listening to legislators, university presidents and regular people along the way that gave their two cents,” Wardner said. “That’s what we need. We’re excited, but chancellor, you need to sustain this enthusiasm that you have. There’s so many good things going on in the university system that we can’t let these fumbles happen again or distract us from the positive aspects of the system.”
Wardner then listed what he felt those aspects were, including programs offered throughout the state and the value he felt North Dakota sees in having a three-tiered system of research universities, four-year universities and two-year colleges.
“There’s a lot of good things going on,” he said, before speaking about how it progressed because all the colleges and universities were part of a team. “We have to be a team within a team. … We want to make sure that we’re working together because if you’re divided then the opposition will pick you apart. I think it’s time to bury the hatchet and all move forward for the state of North Dakota.”
In his update, Hagerott informed the Board members on what had been happening throughout the system since the last meeting. He began by noting that all 11 colleges and universities would be implementing Predictive Analytic Reporting, a framework for helping manage student success by tracking trends for student intervention. He then spoke about conducting studies on governance, cost containment, mission, tuition and fees, shared services, and retention. Those studies had been broken down into working groups that included college and university presidents, system vice chancellors, tapping faculty and staff expertise as needed.
“Working with presidents and their staffs has been very refreshing throughout this process,” Hagerott said. “People are motivated to help our students.”
He also spoke about steps that had been taken to reduce the system office deficit, noting that the vice chancellor of administrative affairs position would be reduced in pay and scope after Glatt, whose last day is Oct. 2, leaves for her new job in Colorado. Other cost-cutting measures had been taken, including reducing travel, combining office space and implementing a reduction-in-force.
Hagerott also spoke about Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Institutional Research and Interim Chief of Staff Lisa Feldner being recently appointed to serve on Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s Cybersecurity Task Force. Hagerott said the effort would focus on the security of state systems, as well as systems at the colleges and universities, and that it could present an opportunity for North Dakota’s students to become educated in the field.
Interim President Jim Ozbun provided an update on Dickinson State University, noting that he felt Dr. Thomas Mitzel would be a welcome addition as the new president. Earlier in the day, Mitzel had accepted the offer for the presidency from the SBHE after its final interview. Ozbun then touched on recent events and activities at the university before talking about “challenges as opportunities.”
“Enrollment is one challenge … I see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Ozbun said. “Freshman numbers are already up, and it’s a good sign. For the first time in a long time we have more incoming students than graduating seniors.”
Ozbun also touched on Bakken U, improving communications’ efforts, refining its reputation, working toward rebuilding the foundation, and bringing the Theodore Roosevelt Library to DSU.
The Board also reviewed its meeting schedule. Discussion revolved around how having fewer meetings or meetings through a video teleconference option could save money, although most Board members felt that more could be done with in-person meetings. Ultimately the Board discussed holding monthly meetings, with every other meeting held from a remote hub. Some equipment would need to be purchased to ensure a quality webcast and recording of the Board meetings. This fits with the Board’s commitment to transparency with its stakeholders. No action was taken.
In other business, the Board heard the Chancellor’s goals, listened to a presentation of the current admissions standards, approved the SBHE budget and finance committee consent agendas, approved the academic and student affairs committee agendas, and held the first readings of policies 302.6 (State Grants), 508.2 (N.D. Academic and CTE Scholarships), 402.2 (Admissions Policies), and 402.3 (Admissions Policies. The Board also held the second reading of policies 302.4 (Councils), 506.1 (Immunizations), and 514 (Due Process).