Moving into the New Year, or moving into a new semester, can always be a time of great enthusiasm for many. This is the time of year for campuses to take a short break between semesters, giving students and faculty a chance to breathe a sigh of relief after closing out all the hard work that typically comes at the end of a semester.
This is the time of year when I like to look back on challenges and successes of the previous 12 months, and to reflect on them and what made them possible in the first place. I know without a doubt that the work being done at the campus level every day has led to a large portion of our successes. For that, I will continue to applaud the work of our faculty and staff. Without you, our students wouldn’t be receiving their educations or their opportunities for success.
I’d like to take the time in this column space to look back now on some of the successes from the past year, and then note some of the challenges we’re looking at taking on in the coming 12 months.
One recent success is the hopeful, confident outlook by our State Board of Higher Education, particularly in its adoption of a higher statewide attainment goal of 65 percent by 2025. That means that in nine years, an increased number of our citizens will hold postsecondary degrees, or high-quality certificates. With more jobs than ever requiring some form of educational experience beyond high school, that attainment goal could help strengthen our workforce.
The Board was very pleased with its collaboration with the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee. In a series of joint meetings our educational leadership was able to come together in very encouraging ways that I think were helpful to both governing bodies.
Through studies driven by my cabinet and led by many of our college and university presidents, we at the system level have a more nuanced and detailed look at mission, shared services, governance, administrative costs, tuition, retention and attainment completed or in progress. These studies complement legislative interim studies, as well as workforce studies like the one commissioned by the Workforce Education Advisory Council. Those combined help to provide a full contextual view of our higher education system.
In May, our Envision 2030 initiative kicked off with more than 200 leaders from throughout the business, government and educational worlds coming to Bismarck to set the direction of higher ed. At that time, preliminary goals were noted in a number of areas that intersect with higher education, such as agriculture, or the needs of tomorrow’s student. Later in the year, 10 Pillar discussions continued that process, modifying goals and setting new ones based on more realistic perspectives from key stakeholders. This spring, those conversations will continue on how and when the goals could begin to be put in place.
The implementation of Open Educational Resources in certain courses at three of our universities resulted in tremendous savings already for their students. We were very impressed with this and will continue to foster an environment that is pro-OER.
Predictive Analytics Reporting, a data analytics tool, began statewide implementation. With this tool, intervention strategies can be put into place early for at-risk students, giving them help in a timely, more proactive way.
These are just a few of the reflections on more positive actions from the past year. It’s important to remain realistic and identify challenges, as well. Economic forecasting has resulted in another higher education budget cut. Fortunately, we were able to take that into account and although there will be impacts to some jobs, those could come from vacant positions or early retirements. No matter what, our aim – at the university system and for members of the Board – is to continue to ensure that cuts don’t impact opportunities for student success.
Despite noting that there are challenges, we can remain positive that the work of delivering high-quality educations will continue. And again, for that, I applaud the work of our faculty and staff, and thank the students for choosing our institutions.