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NDUS Chancellor Goetz prods for Williston College management program

Williston State College President Ray Nadolny describes the challenges and opportunities facing the colleges in the Oil Patch on Thursday during a state Board of Higher Education meeting in Williston.

WILLISTON -- North Dakota University System Chancellor Bill Goetz advocated strongly Thursday for a proposal to add an applied management program at Williston State College that would be the first four-year degree offered by the school.

The proposal for the two-year campus to add a Bachelor of Science degree is creating some concerns about "mission creep," Goetz said, but prodded state Board of Higher Education members to approve the new program.

Executives from oil companies say there will be a growing demand for workers with higher levels of expertise, Goetz said.

"It's a different day. It's a whole different dynamic," Goetz said. "We can no longer be provincial in terms of our lone individual campuses."

Williston State President Ray Nadolny said the program that would prepare workers for supervisory positions is in high demand in the region, particularly because there are no other nearby options for a university education.

"In this community, we are the only opportunity for higher education. The closest universities are Minot and Dickinson," Nadolny said. "It is a much different situation here in the west than it is in the east. We lack access to universities."

Students in Williston have access to distance-education, but many say they want a traditional face-to-face program, Nadolny said.

Board members did not act on the proposal Thursday at a meeting largely devoted to discussing issues at North Dakota's western campuses and the impact of oil development.

Addressing that impact takes more than fixing the roads, Goetz said.

He said higher education needs to take a fresh look at how colleges and universities in western North Dakota respond to the educational needs in the growing communities.

"We all need to come together and recognize that we have a dynamic in this state that is critically different from anything we've ever experienced," Goetz said.

The board also discussed but did not take action on a proposal to ask the Legislature for $5 million in energy impact funds to target needs at Williston State, Dickinson State University, Bismarck State College and Minot State University.

DC Coston, president of Dickinson State University, said housing for students, faculty and staff is critical for the western campuses.

In Dickinson, the average house price increased 44 percent in the past two years and the vacancy rate of apartment complexes is 0.5 percent or less, Coston said.

The other most critical issue is keeping employee compensation competitive, Coston said.

"The cost of living has gone up dramatically," Coston said.

Hamid Shirvani, the newly hired chancellor who will start in July, attended the meeting and spent some time touring communities in the Oil Patch.

Shirvani, currently president of California State University-Stanislaus, said higher education will be important not only for the oil industry, but for the other professions that will be necessary to support the growing population.

Shirvani said he wants higher education to partner with businesses to encourage people to pursue academic training while also working, making them better employees while also working toward a degree.

"We have to connect higher education to economic and workforce development much more strongly," Shirvani said. "This is a golden opportunity to do that."

In other business:

- Board members authorized Williston State to enter into a lease agreement with the college foundation to construct a 74-unit apartment building for college employees and local government and state agency employees.

Construction will begin in May on the one-year project, Nadolny said.

"When they start building this, I'm going to have every state agency trying to get into this complex," Nadolny said.

- The board heard a proposal for a new transportation and logistics center that would be a partnership between North Dakota State University and Dickinson State. However, board members did not take any action.

Dalrymple is a reporter stationed in the Oil Patch for Forum Communications Co.