We have a system that works

April 23, 2014

State Board of Higher Ed President Diederich

A column by Board Chair Kirsten Diederich

We’ve had some good news lately both nationally and locally about North Dakota and about the university system’s key role in its success.

A recent story in Forbes magazine highlighted our state’s booming economy, saying “North Dakota leads the nation in virtually every indicator of prosperity: the lowest unemployment rate, and the highest rates of net in-migration, income growth and job creation.” It goes on to say, “Today more than half of North Dakotans aged 25-44 have post-secondary degrees, among the highest percentages in the nation and well above the roughly 40% number for the rest of the country.” That’s music to my ears, as that is one of the goals of the State Board of Higher Education’s current strategic plan – to lead the nation in educational attainment, and we’ve been working hard to achieve that.The article also noted that in Fargo, “STEM employment is up nearly 40% since 2001, compared to 3% nationally.” That’s certainly due in part to growth in the industrial and technology sector there, but I think also because NDUS is No. 2 in the nation in the percentage of graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields who can fill those jobs. Our colleges and universities strive to provide the best possible opportunities for those students. In addition, the state offers a loan forgiveness program for STEM graduates, which NDUS administers.

A recent editorial in the Grand Forks Herald also highlighted that NDUS leads the nation in completion rates – meaning that 74% of our community college graduates who plan to go on to earn bachelor’s degrees or higher are able to successfully transfer and obtain those degrees. The national average is 36%. That’s primarily due to the fact that the institutions in our system got together and developed the General Education Requirement Transfer Agreement, an approved set of general education courses transferable between University System campuses and North Dakota’s five tribal colleges. The transfer agreement is designed to improve student access to college degrees and avoid course duplication or loss of credit when students transfer within North Dakota. As the editorial pointed out, other states have not been as successful as we have, and that’s become a source of frustration for their students and lawmakers.

In addition, a study by PayScale, a salary analysis site, got media attention when it concluded that an education at NDUS’ two research universities provided the best bang for the buck in the country. At the top was North Dakota State University, providing a 9.5% annual return on investment over 20 years. In-state students at the University of North Dakota have the second-highest rate of return at 7.4%

It’s all good news – whether it’s ensuring smooth transitions while in school, providing the best value for the investment our students and state make or supplying an educated workforce for the future of our state, NDUS has a system that works, and I’m so proud to be part of it.