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Other Views: The State of Higher Education Board’s next big step

“The board is running scared, nervous, playing it safe and voting close to the vest,” consultant Tom Meredith told the North Dakota Board of Higher Education in July.

“It seems to me people are saying to you, ‘You’re not providing the leadership we need to have to run these universities.’”

But a week ago, the board started to reassert itself. It did so by taking Meredith’s comments into account when voting on pay raises for the system’s presidents.

Now, the board should take a much more important step. It should follow through on its acceptance of the Pathways to Student Success plan and commit to fully implementing the program.

Pathways is the plan developed by former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani to boost the university system’s effectiveness. It would do this in part by raising UND and NDSU’s admissions standards, likely raising the schools’ graduation rates and enhancing the institutions’ reputations as research universities.

There’s an old saying in higher education: “All the community colleges want to be state colleges, all the state colleges want to be state universities, and all the state universities want to be Harvard.” But North Dakota could use a little more Harvard-envy right now. Because rather than embracing the Pathways formula for raising the stature of their institutions, UND and NDSU administrators seem to be balking at it out of worry about the plan’s effect on enrollments.

The board should give the presidents this directive: Press on. The board should recognize the presidents’ concerns, perhaps by promising that an enrollment drop won’t cripple the universities’ finances. As board member Grant Shaft points out in an interview with the Grand Forks Herald, such a drop not only will likely be temporary, but also will rebound with a big influx of highly qualified and well-prepared students. What university could ask for more?

The board should also reassure North Dakotans that young people from throughout the state still would be able to attend UND or NDSU. The students simply might have to work a bit harder in high school to do so.

All in all, the Pathways plan offers a positive and realistic vision for the North Dakota higher education system. Board members should reaffirm their commitment and direct the presidents to get the job done.

The Grand Forks Herald Editorial Board formed this opinion.