Envisioning the Future of Education

February 4, 2016

Mark Hagerott - North Dakota University System Chancellor

Mark Hagerott – North Dakota University System Chancellor

Historic times are upon us.  The engineers and scientists of NDUS realize that technology is changing and morphing in ways that would have seemed impossible just 10 years ago. For the economics and business students, they know the swings in the price of oil are almost unprecedented. For our ag students, who continue to help feed the world (the single most important work of our state), the changes in agriculture from precision ag to the lab are breathtaking.

NDUS exists in the midst of this historic time, and has a major role to play. So allow me to reflect a bit on what is going on, and what are doing to plan for the future. This is a short column, but let me offer one idea up front: we live in an age of massive information, data overload, so to speak.  In times such as these, we need to sort thru the chaff and find the wheat. We need to focus on what counts.  One famous scientist admitted the difference between counting things and finding what things count: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” So, lets reflect on some of the things that count during these exciting times and what we are doing so that in the future every dollar we spend, every minute we are on campus, counts more in creating a better NDUS.

We count on the dedicated faculty and staff within the North Dakota University System whose tireless efforts have brought us to this point in our history. We count on the state leaders, business people, citizens and benefactors who have supported us along the way. We count on students to absorb and create knowledge to build the North Dakota of the future. So what are we doing today to make NDUS better?

We are working to make our system more efficient and responsive to change. Some of these efforts will help bring us in line with legislative mandates and help ensure we’re where our elected officials want us to be, such as resolving data inconsistencies.  Other efforts include reinvigorating NDUS audit function, finding new ways to share services, and implementing programs to boost student retention, an effort led by the presidents Gary Hagen and Tisa Mason, and supported by representatives of the eleven campuses.

We believe that a recent review by the Higher Learning Commission will soon be resolved favorably for the system – another effort that counts. Bakken U awarded its first Bakken Scholarship to Dickinson State University, complements of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Our students, faculty, staff, legislative allies are writing the current history of NDUS.  While it feels good to count up good marks on a report card, and they do indicate we are on the path to a better run, more responsive NDUS system, another task remains to be tackled: thinking and planning for the future. How do we chart a path into the future history we want to be written?  Who is part of the effort to create a broader vision of the future?

A joint meeting this week of the Interim Higher Education Committee of the Legislature led by Representative Sanford and the State Board of Higher Education led by Kathy Neset is a visible sign of a new era of collaboration as we come together in the best interest of our students.  The presidents of our 11 public colleges and universities have taken on studies ranging from governance to cost containment for the university system. Several of these studies complement legislative interim work, and the cooperation among staff, faculty, administrators, and elected and appointed officials has been outstanding, and, I believe, a sign of important things to come.

In the coming months, we will bring together stakeholders to continue to shape a broader vision. What that means is taking all the perspectives we’ve heard, combining them with cabinet studies,  and then connecting these with the input from legislative, community, and business leaders to develop a path that leads to the future of higher education here in North Dakota.

This process of envisioning the future of NDUS will take a big step 23 May 2016, when we hold a strategic retreat titled Envision 2030.  My staff and representatives from campuses and other stakeholders will work during next few months to prepare for this event.  We look forward to welcoming your vision for the future of higher education in North Dakota.

We’re counting on all of us to do the work of today and envision yet a better future of higher education in North Dakota.