Committed to Doing the Right Thing

January 22, 2014

State Board of Higher Ed President DiederichBy Kirsten Diederich, President

The State Board of Higher Education held a special meeting Jan. 17 to discuss Pathways to Student Success, a plan that has become somewhat controversial. It was a healthy discussion, allowing all Board members to express their opinions about the North Dakota University System moving forward with this plan to help students reach their educational goals.

There was complete agreement among Board members about our commitment to student success. It was wonderful to hear the passion expressed as each member talked about their hopes and dreams for the future of higher education. However, there appears to be numerous interpretations about the goals of the plan and how it should be implemented. In addition, thought leaders outside the Board appear split: some believe the plan is unnecessary and that its very name leaves them cold; while others have come out solidly in favor of the plan’s direction.

There is no doubt that our students, our citizens and the state will benefit if we increase graduation and retention rates and decrease remediation rates. From a strictly practical standpoint, that will help students reach their goals more quickly and start their careers with less student debt. But I also think that we need to recognize the uniqueness of how each institution serves students and ensure that we thoughtfully include our K-12 colleagues in developing the implementation plan.

I believe that part of the solution to our dilemma rests in another task force that is at work. The Roles and Responsibilities Task Force is taking a fresh look at guidelines that were developed several years ago that define the responsibilities of the Board and the responsibilities of university system leaders. This is a valuable exercise for us to go through because we have much to accomplish and we’d like to do it as efficiently and effectively as possible.

I am confident that we will soon have a win-win strategy in hand that will satisfy all of our stakeholders. At the conclusion of our discussion on Jan. 17, Board member Grant Shaft agreed to craft a motion that captures the essence of the Board’s commitment to student success, while allowing improvements to be made in the plan. He will present the motion at our Jan. 30 meeting, and I anticipate that while we may have more lively discussion, we will leave that meeting knowing that we have worked together to do the right thing for the future of our students and North Dakota.