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NDUS chancellor discusses reform plan at UND

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GRAND FORKS -- Student success remains the focus of the North Dakota University System plan to overhaul admissions standards, which will not affect tuition rates, system Chancellor Hamid Shirvani said Tuesday.

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"If the standards are raised, the quality of education is higher and students graduate quicker, faster," he said while at the University of North Dakota.

With students taking longer than four years to graduate with a bachelor's degree, "we don't want to waste students' time," he said.

It was the first time Shirvani held a forum with faculty, staff and students at a university to discuss his Pathways to Student Success plan. He and State Board of Higher Education members have already visited several high schools. More visits are planned with the goal of visiting every high school and college in the state, according to board spokeswoman Linda Donlin.

"It was a great way to do it as a kickoff to the next semester," she said. "A lot of these things have been forming during the first semester, now it's a chance for him to talk a little bit more about the plan."

Several faculty members and some students appeared for the event, held in the Memorial Union, but most of the questions were submitted by the public and the event was broadcast across the state.

Shirvani, who oversees the state's 11 higher education institutions, first announced the plan in August. It would also improve college preparatory work, remedial courses and affordability for adult learners, affecting nearly every student in the state.

Many questions the chancellor addressed during the hour Tuesday centered on the admission standards, which make it more difficult for students to be accepted to the state's research universities, such as UND, and regional universities, such as Mayville State University.

Admission criteria would rely on a score -- a combination of ACT scores, high school grade point averages and completed core courses -- that determines whether a student is eligible to attend a research university or regional university, or if they should start at a community college first.

In a state that largely abides by an "open" admissions policy, the proposal was met with some public concern.

Shirvani said top students at colleges now will remain top students in the new system, and while some may be drawn to colleges out-of-state, North Dakota is losing a number of these students now.

"Good students have choices," he said. "If the standards are raised, some of these students might decide not to leave the state."

With a start date slated for fall 2014, some are also worried the score-based system will cause a dramatic dip in enrollment.

Shirvani acknowledged it might happen but noted boosting the quality of education is the larger picture at stake.

"It's not about elitism, it's about a higher level of distinction and competitiveness" among schools here and abroad, he said.

He stressed admission standards, not the cost of education, will change. A "generous" recommended executive budget for the next biennium will help keep tuition costs stable and reduce tuition for adults who can't afford classes, he said.

The State Board plans to broadcast all of Shirvani's future visits to schools and colleges. The university system website will be remodeled to include updates on the plan.

"As we move along, we'll improve it, we'll revise it," Shirvani said.

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