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From left are North Dakota University Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, University of Mary President Fr. James Patrick Shea and Dickinson State University President D.C. Coston.

DSU partners with U-Mary to offer advanced degrees

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In a rare public-private school partnership, Dickinson State University announced Tuesday that it will collaborate with the University of Mary to offer an assortment of advanced degrees.

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DSU, which offers bachelor's-level and associate degrees, will team with the Bismarck-based Catholic institution to provide students the opportunity to receive master's degrees in business, nursing, education and counseling beginning in March.

The announcement was made at a joint news conference at the Henry Biesiot Activities Center, which was attended by several dozen onlookers and media members, along with speakers DSU President D.C. Coston, U-Mary President Fr. James Patrick Shea and North Dakota University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani.

"This is a momentous announcement for educational opportunities in this entire region," Coston said. "To say this region is rapidly changing would be an understatement. Because of the engagement that Dickinson State has with citizens of this region, they talk to us about what they see as their evolving needs, many of which are directly related to expanded educational opportunities."

In addition to the master's opportunities at DSU, the schools also outlined a plan to explore the possibility of a "4+1 accelerated module" in which a student could earn a four-year degree from DSU and a master's from U-Mary in five years, one less year than the standard six years needed to obtain a master's-level degree.

"Dickinson State University is a wonderful institution of higher learning and is an integral part of this community and the fabric of western North Dakota," Shea said. "We're proud to announce a partnership with them. It's a beautiful thing to have institutions like ours working together to serve people, serve students and serve this region."

The partnership is the latest in a series of recent collaborations entered into by U-Mary, which also offers degrees in Catholic studies and theological studies at Arizona State, the largest public research university in the U.S. Through its extended learning programs, DSU offers undergraduate degrees in Bismarck, Williston and online in four states.

The two school presidents and Shirvani championed the newest partnership as one that sets institutional egos aside and puts the needs of students and those in western North Dakota who wish to continue their education first. The rare intermingling of private and public institutions was in the best interest of the people of western North Dakota, said Shea, who spent time as a priest in Killdeer and as an instructor at Trinity High School before ascending to his position at U-Mary.

"This will bring the best of what our institutions know about and do and will serve students in a whole new way," Shea said. "We already have a lot of graduate students here in Dickinson, many of whom drive to Bismarck every week. We just said 'why not offer these programs right here in Dickinson?'"

Shea went on to call the plan "a model of unity" and of "what can happen when good people come together to focus on the greater good."

The news seemed to come as a breath of fresh air for members of DSU's faculty and administration as the school has been mired in controversy for much of the past two years. A scandal involving DSU's artificial inflation of enrollment numbers came to light in early 2012, leading to the school being placed "on notice" by its accrediting body, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

The next step after being place on notice is for an institution to lose its accreditation with the NCA, which also oversees U-Mary. U.S. Department of Education officials visited the DSU campus last week, although the nature of the visit is unknown. Representatives from the DOE have not returned calls made by The Press.

In 2011, a state audit brought to light questions about DSU's admission standards and the awarding of unearned degrees, which led to the ousting of former school president Richard McCallum. The partnership with DSU, however, seems to indicate that U-Mary has little question as to whether DSU will continue to be an accredited institution.

"We hope that this collaboration is a sign of our confidence, not just in Dickinson State University, but in the community of Dickinson as well," Shea said. "My understanding is that the accreditation issues are being addressed robustly by Dr. Coston and his staff. We're making an active trust, which is always a risk, but we're willing to do it to have this opportunity to serve. The integrity of an institution depends upon the integrity of its leadership."

Coston said initial conversations over the potential of a partnership began in 2011. U-Mary will have a presence at the DSU campus and will work with DSU administration and staff to hire new faculty to coordinate and administer course, said Shea.

"We are pleased to be part of this wonderful new public and private partnership," said Shirvani. "We are particularly interested in serving the adult learner population, giving them more opportunities to complete an education that may have been interrupted by other commitments or to change careers based on the employment opportunities in North Dakota today."

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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