Developing the Roadmap for Student Success

November 17, 2013

SBHE President DiederichWe are in the midst of a gigantic shift in education. Think about this for a moment: Our faculty are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist where they will use technology that hasn’t yet been invented to solve problems that we don’t yet know are problems. Here are some interesting facts from a video called “Shift Happens” released earlier this year:

  • The Top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004;
  • Today’s learner will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38; and
  • Students who are preparing for a four-year technical degree find that much of the information is outdated by their third year of study

Indeed we are living in exponential times, which have a dramatic impact on higher education. But let me back up a little and talk about a shift that happened 40 years ago — and is directly related to our rationale for developing the Pathways to Student Success Plan.

A study called Back to School Ready or Not, published in 2008, said, “Traditionally, higher education — particularly at bachelor’s degree-granting institutions — was for the best students. Some schools followed the philosophy of weeding out students in a make-or-break atmosphere. But as many middle-class jobs requiring only a high-school education disappeared, post-secondary education was transformed into a must-have for many who wanted a middle-class, or better, standard of living.”

Now about two-thirds of new high school graduates — up from less than half in the 1970s — go on to higher education, the study said. “However, the growth in the percentage of students continuing to higher education has been larger than the growth in the percentage of those who actually earn their bachelor’s degrees.” Colleges across the nation are adapting to a wider range of students, swapping a sink-or-swim approach for different instructional techniques, remedial education, tutoring and other ways to help students succeed.

That is why we are committed to Pathways to Student Success and why we are also committed to working with the Department of Public Instruction to make it happen. Students can increase their chances of success in college by taking a challenging academic load in high school. We must ensure that we are having a P-20 (preschool through graduate school) conversation as we prepare our students for those future careers that don’t yet exist. In the process, we will be giving them the confidence to creatively manage whatever they face in tomorrow’s world.

In my own experience as an educator, I have seen first-hand the deflation of self-confidence that occurs when a student is placed into a course for which they are ill-prepared. The goal of the Pathways plan is to ensure that those who want to learn — can learn — without their first experience in higher education being a failure.

If that’s too touchy-feely for you, let’s be practical for a moment. We don’t want students paying for courses in which they won’t thrive. We hear much discussion about the high cost of education and graduation rates. The rest of the story is that if students are effectively prepared for the classes they are taking, they are much more likely to graduate on time and with less debt.

However, grade point averages and ACT scores do NOT define an individual. What makes a successful student is a mixture of determination, early success, math and communication skills and a desire to learn. And just as those measures don’t necessarily define a successful student, neither do IPEDs graduation and retention rates necessarily define a successful institution of higher learning. But it’s the national measure that we are judged by, and as you know — what gets measured, gets done — so we will work with it as we strive to improve.

  • The State Board is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in North Dakota. Pathways to Student Success will help us get there, but we must to do it right.
  • Doing it right means partnering with K-12 and looking at education as a journey that our students take from pre-school through graduate school. The timing is perfect because K-12 is changing its standards as well.
  • We are working together to provide students a roadmap to reach their fullest potential. The transition from high school to college courses should be an exciting adventure that a student approaches with confidence, not a journey into uncharted waters that only the strong survive.

There is no better time than now to embark on this adventure. Other states are not doing as well as we are and aren’t investing in education. We have an opportunity to take a giant leap ahead and create an educational system that others will envy as much as they envy our economy.  In fact, a fascinating study called American Dream 2.0 addresses higher education from many angles, especially financial aid, and it draws parallels between the energy industry and higher education. It said the oil industry reinvented its business model and adopted new ways to reach reserves formerly untapped. “Our students represent hidden reserves of talent that can power our country. What if, like the energy industry, we adopt a new business model that taps into those reserves?”

Nowhere is that a truer statement than today in North Dakota. Now is the time to work together to provide the highest-quality education possible for those who will inherit the future of this state.

Editor’s note: Dr. Diederich’s originally published column was an edited version of a presentation she made. During the editing process, her source references were inadvertently omitted. We apologize for the error and have inserted her references in this version.