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Higher education board seeks college presidents’ input on student success plan

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – The State Board of Higher Education will seek feedback from the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities before revising its plan to enhance student success at state schools.

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Stakeholders at all levels indicated they support goals outlined in the Pathways to Student Success plan, which aims to increase graduation and retention rates, reduce the need for remedial education and raise the profile of the state’s 11 public schools.

But higher education board members disagreed with the chancellor and campus presidents over how the goals outlined in the plan will be achieved.

At the board’s meeting Thursday, Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen asked for the authority to work with presidents to develop an operational plan that will meet goals outlined under Pathways.

He said the Pathways plan, in its current form, has “two fatal flaws.”

First, he said it was not properly vetted when introduced by former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani. Without proper input from the campuses, it became a “top-down mandate directed at an operational level at our institutions,” Skogen said.

Secondly, he said none of the strategies in Pathways was based on “sound research.”

He criticized the plan’s admissions index, which, he said, was developed after analyzing Google search results for “enrollment index.”

“For a billion-dollar industry in the state of North Dakota, that does not qualify as good research,” Skogen said.

The campus presidents support Skogen’s proposal.

The presidents also support what the board hopes to accomplish through Pathways, said North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani.

“We get conceptually what we want to accomplish,” Bresciani said, but he urged the board to take advantage of their expertise in reaching those goals.

State board President Kirsten Diederich said the board should set goals while the institutions come up with the strategies to reach them.

“The board stepped out of its boundaries by mandating that schools follow the Pathways to Student Success,” she said.

Board member Grant Shaft said it is important that Pathways remain a “board-driven” policy.

“This board does not have any business turning this over completely to the chancellor and the presidents,” he said.

Despite Skogen’s proposal, the board voted to seek input and suggested revisions to Pathways from campus leadership and the chancellor.

Skogen will set a deadline for written feedback from the campuses, and the board will consider suggested revisions, gather more information and/or consult with outside experts to finalize the plan.

Board member Don Morton said feedback from campuses would create the necessary buy-in for the plan, and the board should “empower them to come up with a plan that they own.”