Community college investments pay off for students and for the state

February 25, 2014

State Board of Higher Ed President DiederichBy Kirsten Diederich, Board Chair

Community colleges nourish both students and society, according to a February report on the value of a community college education. “Where Value Meets Values: The Economic Impact of Community Colleges,” said community college graduates receive nearly $5 in benefits for every dollar they spend on their education, while the return to taxpayers is almost six to one. In addition, the report says that while the principal aim of community colleges is to provide education and raise people’s incomes, students’ health and lifestyles are improved and society indirectly benefits.

As a board member of the Association of Community College Trustees, I was particularly intrigued by this information, especially in light of North Dakota’s robust economy. Our state is wisely investing heavily in infrastructure to build a foundation to support and maintain that economy. In addition to investments in roads and bridges, law enforcement and health and human services needs, building that foundation includes investment in higher education, which is the key to having the workforce that is needed for the future. I encourage you to view our new video on that topic, which is highlighted elsewhere in this newsletter.

The Higher Education Funding Interim Committee of the Legislature has been meeting regularly, focusing on various higher education topics. They are gathering information that will help them make informed decisions about funding our institutions, and we appreciate their dedication. In the past few months, they have met at North Dakota State University to get an overview of our research universities and at Valley City State University to hear about what’s happening at our regional universities.

Their meeting last week at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton focused specifically on community colleges in the North Dakota University System. We shared information about our wide variety of on-site programs that are tailored to the workforce needs of and created in partnership with the state’s business community, as well as our robust online and distance education programs. We believe ensuring North Dakotans have access to community colleges will help fill the jobs that are in such high demand. And certainly the above-referenced report quantifies the return on investment for students and society.

In addition, many years ago, we organized our university system so that it is easy for NDUS community college students to seamlessly transfer to our state’s regional or research universities. As a result, we are #1 in the nation in the percentage (74 percent, compared to the national average of 32 percent) of our community college graduates who transfer to four-year institutions and attain their four-year degrees.

I am very proud to be part of a higher education system that continuously strives to ensure all students reach their educational goals while helping to shape the future of our state.