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Shirvani tells Richardton-Taylor students: 'You all can go to college'

NDUS Chancellor Ham Shirvani speaks with Richardton-Taylor High School students Thursday about the importance of post-secondary education.

RICHARDTON -- During his stop at Richardton-Taylor High School Thursday morning, North Dakota University System Chancellor Ham Shirvani had two basic messages for the 30 or so students he addressed.

The first: In a competitive world, a post-high school education is important. The second: Those who might find roadblocks on their path to higher learning should understand there are ways around them.

"In our world today, if you don't go to college, you're going to be way behind," Shirvani told the assembled students. "I really want you to know that you all can go to college. I don't want any of you to ever think that you're not smart enough to go to college. It really is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration -- it's all about hard work."

One concern for higher education administrators in North Dakota is the number of young people going to work in oil field-related jobs or service industry jobs in the western part of the state that are paying higher-than-normal wages.

"We've had couple of students in last year's graduating class go to work in the oil field, but not many," Principal Russell Ziegler said. "Those individuals are making good money right now, but we try to stress those could be temporary and you have to think about injuries happening and what you do then. Most of our current seniors are looking at furthering their education and we think that's a great thing."

Making a pit stop in Richardton before traveling to Dickinson to speak with legislators, Shirvani encouraged students to take advantage of educational opportunities in what he called "a great state for higher education."

For the most part, Shirvani found a group of high school students who place a lot of value on higher learning.

"A job is just a job, it isn't going to make you happy," Senior Maggie Zentner said. "All the money in the world isn't going to make you happy if you have a job you don't like, but a career is different. That's why I want to go to college."

When Shirvani asked how many students planned to further their education after high school, most hands went up, but many of those students also expressed concern about paying for college.

"I hear money being the reason why young people don't further their education, but money really shouldn't be an issue," Shirvani said. "There are scholarships, athletic scholarships, grants and student loans available. Pell Grants

are wonderful tools for low-income


Zentner wondered why so much emphasis is put on test scores in the application process.

"I'm not a great test-taker, so I didn't get a really high score on my ACT," Zentner said after the presentation. "But I have a good GPA because I'm a hard worker. I am worried about it, though. I don't want schools to not take me because my ACT isn't high enough because I think I have a lot of potential."

Shirvani assured Zentner and her classmates that a number of factors are considered when an applicant is considered for entrance into a North Dakota school, including GPA, test scores, class rank and core courses completed.

"Your last couple years of high school and then your first couple years of college are the most important to do well in," Zentner said. "Even if you have a low GPA and a low ACT, or perhaps had a family crises or other hardship during high school, you can still go to a two-year community college, get at least a 2.5 GPA and then transfer to a four-year school."

Shirvani also touted the recently-approved NDUS "Pathways to Student Success Plan," which will implement a three-tier ranking system for all North Dakota colleges and Universities over the course of the next few years. The system will effectively make it more difficult for students to be admitted to the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University.

"This plan will give students a better opportunity to be successful in college," Shirvani said. "It's not a ranking of importance of institutions, but a way to better set students up for success. UND and NDSU, our other four-year schools and our community colleges all offer great programs and are great institutions. They just have different missions."

Some in the state have expressed concern over a system that ranks institutions. The State Board of Higher Education approved the plan last month.

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.
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