Task Forces finding early results

December 4, 2017

With the end of the year approaching, I like to reflect about how much work the 45,000 students throughout the North Dakota University System are taking on. I remember the buzz of energy that campuses could take on in the final weeks of a semester, and it can be both electrifying and exhausting. There’s definitely a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that can come at the end of this period, for faculty, for staff, and for the students.

After months of research and deliberation, some working groups within the university system are about to experience the same thing.

Five task forces that were brought to life from the legislative mandate in Senate Bill 2003 got to work in October by organizing for the first time at Lake Region State College. During one afternoon session, the five task forces narrowed their respective focuses to dig deep into topics that each hold promise of finding further efficiencies in our system.

Each did so with a specific topic in mind: Alignment and Articulation; Technical Programs and Workforce Needs; Common Enrollment Management Systems; Business and Shared Services; and Academic Programs.

At the time, I’d noted that we were seeking to create systemwide efficiencies that would allow our talented campus administrators and leaders, and their teams, to move from a transactional environment to more value-added strategic goals. I wasn’t surprised to find that each of the task forces had a relatively detailed report to give at the end of that October session; details that would provide the foundation for how they would progress forward.

In forming task forces and setting them to work, it’s always a risk that certain previous efforts may be duplicated. However, in our case we were fortunate in that these five groups had access to previous studies and reports created by the academic, business, and legislative worlds. This wealth of information has a tendency to provide great opportunity for comparative analysis of what works, and for what doesn’t.

So far, a few details have come to my attention prior to the Dec. 6 report-out by the task forces. After becoming familiar with some of the direction and early highlights, I’m confident that our task forces will find certain best practices to move forward with that will fit the intent of SB 2003.

Alignment and Articulation: “The Secondary and Post-Secondary alignment task force will explore the framework for a pathways document that will prove a resource for transition counseling/advising, including career/academic advising.”

Technical Programs and Workforce Needs: “Among several strategies prepared for consideration of the SBHE, the task force recommends a closer examination of specific career and technical education high school course sequences in a number of career clusters for the potential award of certificates that could be applied to first year, college level programs of study. Supporting rationale for the award of a certificate is to encourage high school students to achieve their first academic milestone along a progressive path to an associate or baccalaureate level program of study.”

Common Enrollment Management Systems: “The Common Enrollment Task Force is studying existing models from other states and systems that improve the student experience and create operational efficiencies through common enrollment and financial aid processing.”

Business and Shared Services: “The Business and Shared Services Task Force is exploring potential consolidation of several back office operations, including payroll processing.” On November 28 the team focused on shared services in the payroll area met with the shared services payroll team at Microsoft on the Fargo campus. The NDUS campuses and system office were well represented by finance and HR leaders. It was a very productive and informative afternoon.

Academic Programs: “The Academic Programs Task Force feels the system should examine a common course catalog for the 2-year colleges, including systemwide general education programs.”

When combined with the Chancellor’s Cabinet Studies, the presidents’ goals, and findings established from the consensus-building Envision 2030 effort, the task force recommendations should serve the system well. Like our students finishing their semester work, our staff and the faculty involved in these efforts should be able to breathe a sigh of relief at this work being done. But, just as our students are continuing to move forward toward a greater goal, these reports will be the next step toward the creation of a more efficient system for all.