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Skogen cites challenges ‘of biblical proportions’ for education

FARGO — Education faces challenges “of biblical proportions,” the North Dakota University System’s leader said Saturday at conference of educators and public employees in Fargo.

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Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen noted an increased rate of technological change, “exploding” populations and the Internet, which he likened to “another continent” of information and operation.

Skogen, the keynote speaker at North Dakota United’s first higher education conference, suggested that the best ways to address these issues include collaboration, constant innovation, analyzing degree attainment versus skill attainment, and developing a new business model for education.

“We have to begin with the fact that higher education is not an ivory tower,” Skogen said. “We have to break out of the traditional mode of thinking for higher education; business cannot be as usual.”

North Dakota United is an organization made up of K-12 and higher ed instructors as well as state and county employees. It was established in September when the North Dakota Education Association and the North Dakota Public Employees Association merged to create a group providing public employees and educators with representation and professional resources.

The free conference was open to all employees of the state’s public universities to gain professional development and participate in a panel discussion.

“Basically, the goals for the conference are to get people together, our members and nonmembers, to talk about the issues that affect higher education,” said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United.

The conference also addressed North Dakota’s development of vertical alignment, which connects K-12 and higher education faculties to better prepare students for education after high school.

“Vertical alignment is focused on, if we’re requiring placement in writing and in mathematics, let’s analyze a little bit closer those connections between pre-K-12 and higher education so we can look at how to improve,” said Dan Leingang, a mathematics professor and department chair at Bismarck State College who spoke about the issue.

“To generate a better understanding of why each student might not be ready or why, when they do get into higher education, they don’t perform at the level we’d want them to, is part of what we should be doing in terms of analyzing and finding answers for those questions.”

Karen Christensen, vice president of education for NDU and a fifth-grade teacher in Wishek, said this communication between K-12 and higher learning is vital to the success of North Dakota students.

“We don’t change the people that we’re working with. We’re developing our students from pre-K until we’ve got them career ready,” Christensen said. “So, if we’re sharing students, we should be sharing information and sharing goals. By us working together, we’re going to more efficiently meet that career-ready status that we need to get our kids to.”