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Higher Education Committee discusses national, state trends of postsecondary degrees

Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education President David Longanecker advised members of the North Dakota Legislature's Higher Education Committee against becoming "insular and isolated" at their meeting Monday at Dickinson State University.

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NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott presents an overview of the strategic higher education plan at a meeting Monday at DSU. (Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)
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Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education President David Longanecker advised members of the North Dakota Legislature’s Higher Education Committee against becoming “insular and isolated” at their meeting Monday at Dickinson State University.
Longanecker, whose organization addresses higher education policy, shared a presentation that gave a national context to North Dakota’s educational landscape by drawing state-to-state comparisons and identifying trending issues in U.S. postsecondary education.
He also used metrics like competitiveness, demographics, finances and productivity to demonstrate the placement of North Dakota’s higher education systems in the national picture.
Overall, Longanecker said, the state is doing well.

“You’re competitive, but if you take a look at your demographics … what you’re looking at are demographic trends that are manageable compared to rest of U.S.” he said.
Much of the American West and South, he said, were experiencing “very substantial” enrollment increases while much of the Northeast and Midwest were in decline.
Longanecker said these enrollment gains were “all coming from populations that (higher education systems) have not particularly served well,” such as ethnic or racial minorities, and were happening in states “with extremely limited resources.”
He cited North Dakota’s more modest climb in enrollments coupled with high levels of average per capita income and postsecondary education funding as stabilizing elements.
“You are in a much better position as you look forward to the future,” he said. “Very manageable growth and in many respects you’re going to face a less difficult demographic challenge.”
School productivity was strong overall, buoyed by high commencement rates in community or two-year colleges, Longanecker said.
Information presented from the National Student Clearinghouse on student completion in six years showed that North Dakota’s completion rate in those institutions ran at 61 percent, compared to a U.S. average of 36 percent.
Public university completion lagged behind the U.S. average by a margin of 4 percent.
Overall, North Dakota ranked eighth overall nationwide in the percentage of adults ages 25 to 34 with an associate’s degree or higher, according to presented U.S. Census Bureau data from 2012.
That data showed about 48 percent of North Dakota residents held a postsecondary degree, about 7 percent less than Massachusetts, the national leader, and 18 percent higher than Nevada, the lowest-ranked state.
Longanecker warned legislators to “be nimble” despite their successes in order to avoid complacency.
“You need to be prepared to change to move with where things are going, because otherwise you’re going to become calcified,” he said. “You want to stay on top of the world, and that’s the toughest thing to do when you’re pretty good.”
Strategic plan presented to some skepticism
North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott presented an overview of the strategic higher education plan developed by the State Board of Higher Education.
Vice Chancellor Linda Donlin provided background to the formulation of the plan, which was “kicked off” last January and will be in effect until 2020.
Donlin said the SBHE conducted more than 100 interviews with higher education stakeholders, including students, business leaders, legislators and professors.
Online outreach included a survey of the state’s Young Professionals Network, “the first-ever Twitter chat with NDUS students, and an online survey in which 1,674 faculty and staff participated.”
The plan presented Monday included four overarching goals, including increasing the value of North Dakota higher education degrees, providing relevant and desirable programs in a timely manner, improving admissions standards and attainment rates and maximizing the efficiency of a unified NDSU system.
Rep. Bob Martinson, R-Bismarck, voiced dissent to the plan presentation, referring to it as “fluff stuff.”
“I apologize for being so blunt, but I’ve seen strategic plans for 40 years and I don’t see any difference in any of them. Everybody says the same thing,” he said.
Martinson added that while he used to be a strong supporter of the higher education system, he had “no faith” in it anymore, claiming the state investments in postsecondary education had yielded no improvements and a lack of unity between institutions.
“Until you show me that you can make a difference, I’m just not going to pay attention,” he said.
Hagerott thanked him for his comments and requested that the NDUS be held accountable in its actions.
He also agreed that greater systemic changes were crucial and necessary to remaining competitive.
“If we don’t get this right, our grandchildren will curse us,” he said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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