State Board of Higher Education talks about work ahead in the New Year
Members of the State Board of Higher Education wasted no time this week getting into the details of how and why certain goals should be pursued in the coming year. At its regular meeting held this month in Fargo, the Board touched on multiple topics but spent considerable time discussing how it and the North Dakota University System would pave the way forward for higher education in 2017.
Board Chair Kathleen Neset opened the meeting by expressing her concern over student and campus safety in light of recent national headlines. She noted that it would be vital going forward to ensure that there were plans in place for safety and communication.
“We’re talking about student success and safety,” Neset said. “This Board does a lot of work outside of these meetings at committees and more. Our foremost aim is the success of our students.”
Chancellor Mark Hagerott gave an update from the university system, first introducing Craig Hashbarger, the NDUS performance auditor at the state auditor’s office. Other updates included a meeting with stakeholders, the presidential search at University of North Dakota that had moved forward the day before, and an update on the NDUS Foundation on which he deferred to Board Member Dr. Kevin Melicher for the details.
“Almost every one of the presidential goals involve building the foundations,” Melicher said in reference to the NDUS Foundation, which was receiving renewed interest. “In no way whatsoever do we want this foundation to supplant what those foundations are doing. However we have an opportunity to expand some of the initiatives throughout N.D. such as Bakken U, Cybersecurity, retention and graduation rates, etc. If we can build this foundation up we’ll have the potential to move some of these efforts forward.
“We’re starting with a balance of $66, so at least we’re not starting with zero,” he added. “Most foundations’ endowments are in the realm of $90-100 million. With the help of people around the state we can make ours grow.”
Next, Hagerott spoke about the NDUS technology initiatives on Cybersecurity, Unmanned Aircraft Systems and High Performance Computing. He noted that nearly every campus was doing something with computers and security, and he was looking forward to that expanding in the future. He said the initiative was just getting underway within the system, which could be poised to lead nationally on the subject. He added that the state’s work with UAS and High Performance Computing comprised two legs on a three-legged stool, with Cybersecurity rounding out that effort.
Hagerott then spoke about the recent visit by the Higher Learning Commission, who spoke to NDUS employees and leadership, as well as lawmakers and business leaders in mid-November. He said that HLC representatives noted there were positive changes put in place since the last visit and NDUS looked forward to seeing the final report.
In budget matters, Hagerott said that all campuses would have a proactive part in providing representatives to a working group on that subject in the near future. The working group was set to look at the change in the state’s budget forecast in light of lower oil and agricultural revenues.
Then the Chancellor moved on to discussing his and the presidents’ goals. He added that he sought Board member input.
Board Vice Chair Don Morton noted that from a high level perspective it would be good to have individual metrics to track certain issues, adding that they would be important to understand which strategies were working and why.
Board Member Greg Stemen said that he would find it valuable to review a simplified process so he and other Board members could help put all the metrics in perspective. Board Member Nick Hacker said that no matter what, goals needed to be measurable and benchmarked, referring to North Dakota State College of Science President John Richman’s goals as being well-done.
Faculty Advisor Eric Murphy said he felt there were numerous goals that were metric-driven, such as student success.
”What are the four little things that you’re going to do? Not a huge description, but some bullet points of how you’ll achieve it,” Murphy stated. “We’re in a good position, but not quite where we want to be. We want to have an ability to evaluate our leadership throughout the system and to do that we need metrics.”
The Board then heard research overviews from UND’s Dr. Grant McGimpsey and North Dakota State University’s Dr. Kelly Rusch.
McGimpsey spoke on the commercialization of strategies, working with N.D. companies and encouraging an entrepreneurial atmosphere at UND. He added that they wanted to be “business friendly at UND.” McGimpsey touched on human health, aerospace, energy, cybersecurity, high performance computing and data studies.
“The idea is to create a Skunkworks for undergraduate students and provide a place where they can create and own their intellectual property,” McGimpsey said in reference to UND’s plans. “We’re not just trying to improve the economy but improve the quality of life for those in North Dakota.”
Rusch offered similar comments from NDSU, speaking about how NDUS held long-standing partnerships with other colleges, EPSCOR, “knowledge transfers” that begin at the research labs and make their way to the state, nation and world, and research and scholarly activities. Some of those topics included big data, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and their use in Precision Agriculture, tackling wheat rust pathogens, new drug delivery systems for pancreatic cancer, and electric materials/nanotechnology. Rusch stated that NDSU’s Class 100 Clean Room was one-of-a-kind in this part of the Midwest, and ensured certain processes could move forward to industry and scientific standards. These programs were part of national research networks and had been integrated to ensure student success.
“NDSU is now tied into a national network of researchers around the country,” Rusch said. “They have access to come to our clean rooms. We’ve expanded our capabilities to reach out to the rest of the country for electrical materials research.”
Rusch also spoke about private sector partnerships, noting that there were currently 65 active partners. She added that they were actively seeking new partners to grow funding and expand research enterprise.
Stemen posed questions on the Center for Nanoscale Engineering, which served to open extensive discussion on the topic. Morton, Murphy and Hacker inquired through the discussion on responsibility and assets. Rusch explained the nature of the background of CNSE, which she said had initially been funded through earmarks that no longer existed. She added that most of the physical assets, intellectual property, personnel and expertise originally assigned to the center was still a part of NDSU. She concluded that it had not been formally closed.
Sen. Tim Flakoll spoke to the Board, stating that he appreciated the opportunities being given for input from legislators. He added that in doing so, the Board fostered an era of new relations among its members, the university system, and the Legislature. He added that it was vital that these types of meetings be attended, and invited SBHE members to legislative hearings. Attending these meetings could provide more nuanced perspective than could sometimes be provided for in written reports.
Flakoll provided the Board with an update to discussions he’d recently held with the outgoing and incoming U.S. Secretaries of Education, and national education legislation that could align with the state and system’s goals for scholarships, community colleges and more.
“When I go to national meetings I still feel that we’re the most fortunate state in the country despite our challenges,” he said, noting that the legislature had done much to try and prepare for those challenges. He added that there was progress on N.D. Legislature’s Senate Concurrent Resolution 4003, which higher education in the state would be interested in as it dealt with foundation aid and aid to school districts.
“There’s a lot of optimism among my colleagues about what the board is doing,” he added. “The trust is really starting to build. The best ideas don’t move forward unless people are comfortable relaying them forward.”
The Board then voted to approve the Chancellor’s goals, which include an office reorganization, the implementation of strategies for excellence, affordability, accessibility, and system responsiveness.
Following the vote, Hagerott spoke about the NDUS office plan, which requests that the $1 million previously set aside by the Legislature be released to help reach the system’s goals. The plan would help create a more unified system, aid it in operating in a more efficient manner, and help students graduate faster and with less debt.
The Board then heard details on budget, finance, and facilities requests before calling for a vote, which found unanimous approval.
Next on the agenda were items relating to the academic and student affairs committee, the audit committee, and board policy readings. Unanimous votes were held for all, including the first readings of policies regarding appointments, pay policy, tuition waivers/tuition assistance, early retirement, and test of high school equivalency. Second readings were held on policies regarding state grant, North Dakota Academic and Career and Technical Education scholarships, and admissions policies.
The Board also formally thanked UND President Robert Kelley and his wife, Marcia, for their years of dedicated service.
The next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 3 at NDSU when the Board will meet jointly with the Interim Higher Ed committee of the N.D. Legislature.