Bakken U: Energizing through Education

October 1, 2015

Mark Hagerott - North Dakota University System Chancellor

Mark Hagerott – North Dakota University System Chancellor

Since taking on this role earlier this summer, I’ve been reminded about two major truths: It’s an interesting time for North Dakota, and an interesting time for North Dakota University System as well.

Through the past three months I’ve heard from our lawmakers, business leaders and community members. I’ve heard views on our many successes, the challenges we face and the goals the people of our state have, especially regarding the path forward for higher education.

One of the efforts that’s become apparent is when and how to address the current economic slowdown in the Bakken. With lower prices, many workers are wondering what their next step should be.

Thanks to the efforts of business and community leaders, there are still new careers to be started and positions to be filled, but some oil workers may lack the necessary qualifications for those roles. This is where the university system is stepping in.

The hub cities of Bismarck, Bottineau, Dickinson, Minot and Williston all have wonderful colleges and communities which know well the challenges and needs of the region and its diverse workers.

At these campuses are programs geared toward energy-related industry needs. From coal-based power to wind energy to transmission lines and more, workers have the opportunity now to add to their already impressive skillsets. For those seeking to expand their credentials beyond energy, there are many accounting, finance, management, health care and human resources options open for exploration.

This NDUS initiative, “Bakken U,” is designed to create among the energy workforce in the Bakken an awareness of programs that already exist, focusing on our westernmost colleges and universities at this time. Doing so allows us the opportunity to respond to the needs of the workforce in the state, and it fits perfectly with our strategies to build a strong system, provide excellent programs and equip students for success.

Our five western colleges and universities – Bismarck State College, Dakota College at Bottineau, Dickinson State University, Minot State University and Williston State College – are participating in a one-stop shop website to direct potential students to on-campus and on-line programs and courses that are right for them. That website,, is available now to offer insight into those programs, certificates and courses of study to anyone interested.

To be clear, we aren’t creating new academic programs of study, at least not yet – rather, we are building awareness of all of the great programs that exist. We are making it easier for students to consider choosing a North Dakota college or university, rather than leaving the state during this uncertain time in the energy business.

We know that we have excellent workers in the oil field, and we want to provide increased opportunities for their growth. Our goals are to provide a bridge to employment, to enhance careers and to create an ‘energy reserve’ of highly-trained workers ready to meet the demands of the workforce, whenever or wherever in the state that may be. The university system is here to help them begin or restart their education.

There are 11 institutions in NDUS, and while Bakken U is focused on the western five, the other six in the eastern part of the state also provide a variety of programs ranging from certificates to graduate degrees. The benefit of a unified system is that we all work as a team to do what’s best for the student and to meet the demands of our state.

The next steps for Bakken U will be to work with businesses and communities that might be interested in offering scholarships and grants to former oil veterans.