Focal points emerge after summit

February 1, 2018


The path toward increasing North Dakota’s postsecondary attainment level took a stride forward recently when officials from around the state convened in Bismarck.

Around four dozen representatives from K-12, higher education, commerce and more met Jan. 11 at Bismarck State College to discuss attainment, or the rate at which individuals complete some type of post-secondary credential. Numerous studies, including data found in the Workforce Education Advisory Council’s Needs and Gaps Report, the consensus-building of the Envision 2030 effort, and reports from business and industry have highlighted the growing need for employees to have some type of higher education – from certificates to graduate degrees.

The Lumina Foundation’s Stronger Nation report highlighted such data, noting that by 2025, 60 percent of all available jobs will require some type of credentialing after high school. Currently, North Dakota’s rate of attainment stands at roughly 47.5 percent, compared to 45.8 percent nationally.

Last year, the Lumina Foundation awarded the North Dakota University System a nearly $100,000 planning grant to begin the process of finding out just how the state could begin to reach its own ambitious goal of 65 percent attainment by 2025. The January summit, facilitated by the North Dakota Consensus Council, aimed to begin answering the question of “how to do it?”

Although the initial grant was awarded to NDUS, a public system, the notion of increasing attainment would include collaboration among employers and businesses, K-12, Career and Technical Education, community colleges, tribal colleges, and universities.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott noted that the need for additional attainment would only continue to grow as industries of the future were rapidly changed by technology.

“Industries have always changed over time, but the driving force of technology is bringing change at more rapid progress than ever before,” Hagerott said. “Because of that, the skills required on the job across industries are going up. Employers are still requiring graduates with industry-specific knowledge, but more and more need those skills to be complemented by digital know-how plus a communications and critical thinking skillset.”

Other states such as Indiana and Tennessee have adopted similar proposals to increase their respective attainment levels to 60 percent. Aided by significant executive and legislative branch support, those initiatives have taken large steps in those states toward achieving their goals over the past few years. It was an enormous undertaking requiring statewide effort and resources.

At the summit at BSC, the attendees learned that any such effort here would need to be a three-pronged endeavor: Marketing and Communications, Returning Adults, and Expanding Credentials. The first would be necessary to inform the public of the changing workforce needs and availability of credentials, the second would encourage non-traditional students (those outside the typical 18-24 age range) to return to their studies, and the third would analyze workforce needs to aim for a systemic solution for credential delivery into the future.

While challenges to achieving the goal include a state unemployment rate hovering near two percent, opportunities were found during the day that included outreach to non-traditional audiences and the increasing connection between K-12 and higher education. After deliberating much of the afternoon in open-ended discussion, breakout groups noted that it would likely take innovating communications to all populations in the state to begin achieving the goal. Indiana, for example, contacted thousands of citizens who had some college credit, but never graduated, a huge task in itself.

Priorities were different from group-to-group, although nearly all participants agreed that in order to be successful, any future work on the topic would need to consider what barriers to entry existed for potential students, what work could be done between higher education and business and industry to meet real-world certification and credentialing needs, and how that would be funded.

Now, NDUS has gathered the data from the day’s discussions. Following further review, more concrete solutions may be suggested to take the initiative forward on the next step to 65 percent attainment.