Task forces kick off work

September 29, 2017

Five task forces comprised of more than 40 North Dakota University System presidents, senior staff, researchers, and State Board of Higher Education members rolled up their collective sleeves this week to move forward on work on a legislatively-mandated study.

Senate Bill 2003 called for a study with the aim to address five key areas throughout the university system. While it was first focused primarily on community colleges in the state, its scope was later expanded to include all 11 of the state’s public colleges and universities. When the Board met in June for its strategic planning retreat, it expanded the study and later sent out letters of invite to proposed subject-matter experts systemwide.

The day before the latest Board meeting, those task forces met at Lake Region State College to formulate their respective plans of action. Led by Dr. Rick Melmer and Dr. Tad Perry and facilitated by consultant Linda Donlin, the task forces met for the first time and were able to dig into their respective objectives relatively quickly. The areas of study include Alignment and Articulation, Technical Programs and Workforce Needs, Common Enrollment Management Systems, Business and Shared Services, and Academic Programs.

Board Chair Don Morton offered an enthusiastic greeting to the assembled task forces via video message, as he was unable to meet onsite due to schedule conflicts.

“We believe this study will help improve the system and have synergy with our strategic plan and our work on Envision 2030,” Morton said. “Organizational success, nationally and globally, begins with critical mass and scale. In the private sector this is accomplished by consolidation and mergers and acquisitions. Within NDUS, collaboration will be our vehicle for building critical mass and scale, allowing us to develop innovative shared services, expanding our research enterprise, and create the workforce programs that might not be possible in a single campus alone.

“We will also be creating systemwide efficiencies that will allow our talented campus administrators and leaders, and their teams, to move from a transactional environment to a more value-added strategic goals,” Morton continued. “We certainly appreciate all members of the task force who will commit significant time and energy to complete this important work. And we appreciate the Legislature’s support and look forward to working together to bring about change that will benefit students and the state of North Dakota.”

Next, Melmer offered advice to the task force members on how they could proceed, before allowing them to adjourn to separate conference rooms to begin their breakout work. After roughly two hours of brain-storming, the groups reconvened to give an initial report-out of early findings. Those findings are listed as follows:


Alignment and Articulation, led by Williston State College President John Miller

Miller noted that numerous findings came out of the initial meeting. Among them was that research was needed into transition counseling to help students leaving high school for jobs or higher education. Work would be done to revisit vertical alignment in math and language arts and appropriate models for each aligning them with associates or bachelors programs. Work would revisit technical preparation in Career and Technical Education-related fields and how to transfer competencies into college credit. Further study would go into reverse engineering of essential skills and learning elements across math and language arts to better understand needs students have coming into higher education.


Technical Programs and Workforce Needs, led by NDUS Director of Academic Affairs Lisa Johnson

Johnson noted that her group had identified several areas to research, including finding additional ways to promote articulate alignment with CTE; exploring the use of more CTE courses that serve admission requirements; creating a dashboard that creates access to programs within system and the need for it; and examining pathways and enhance offerings for high demand jobs.


Common Enrollment Management Systems, led by NDUS Chief Information Officer Darin King

King said his group noted that the first 40 questions on all institutional applications are currently the same, however after that each institution is different. He said that two common enrollment management systems needs stood out immediately – one for the application process and one for the financial aid verification process. King stated that inconsistencies had been identified throughout campus or systemwide processes, and that would require extensive research. That  would likely start with a “process map” of each campus to understand where efficiencies already exist or where they can be found.


Business and Shared Services, led by NDUS Chief Financial Officer Tammy Dolan

Dolan said the group’s early objectives focused on what departments were appropriate for consolidation, including procurement, human resources, and finance. She said that extensive study had already revealed that in order to create consolidated services, first one needed consistent policies and practices. Since the 11 public colleges and universities were different in size and scope, that would be an early challenge in need of addressing. Dolan added that most campuses were already operating with minimal forward-facing personnel across the departments she’d listed, but research into shared administration and systemwide contracts could prove beneficial.


Academic Programs, led by NDUS Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs Richard Rothaus

Rothaus said much time was spent considering a common course catalogue, as well as a common numbering system for course, and how those could potentially be implemented. He noted that the task force would also conduct research into a four-year curriculum map, starting with programs that had high transfer rates. Rothaus said the task force would seek more information into policies regarding optimal or preferable class sizes, and that it would conduct research into finding efficiencies in programs that help state needs.


The task forces will now schedule individual meetings through the next two months, with an overarching goal of having clear recommendations made by December.