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Higher-ed board member urges university presidents to assess workforce retention projects

Enrollment within NDUS network is up, defying national trends

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BISMARCK — A member of North Dakota's Board of Higher Education urged its university presidents to assess their workforce retention projects, at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

John Warford, chair of the board's committee for academic and student affairs, said the state's universities are essential for developing a skilled workforce. He cited Gov. Doug Burgum's Main Street initiative, which would earmark $76 million for workforce recruitment and retention, as an opportunity to develop the state's human capital.

“Our governor, Legislature and citizens look to our universities as an essential conduit to the workforce,” said Warford. “Our committee has not been receiving enough requests on this front. I urge our university presidents to examine existing workforce projects, make recommendations to improve them where they can and eliminate those that are inefficient.”

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Jen Weber, director of institutional research for the NDUS, presented NDUS' census data report.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of enrollment data at the North Dakota University System’s 11 constituent colleges. The student population across these 11 institutions measured at the start of the fall 2022 semester of 43,545 is up .4% from last fall.

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By comparison, student enrollment nationwide has declined by an average of 1.1% from the previous fall.

Weber attributed the slight gain in students to a number of trends.

“We have seen an increase in dual enrollment from high school students — 813 more than last fall — who count as undergraduate freshmen for enrollment purposes,” Weber said. “Additionally, we are experiencing historically high enrollment in graduate and professional degree programs. These students comprise around 15% of total NDUS enrollment.”

Casey Ryan, co-chair of the research and governance committee, spoke of opportunities to increase the state’s research and development budget. Ryan cited the recently signed CHIPS and Science Act as a means to achieve this end.

One of the act’s stated purposes, according to whitehouse.gov, is to “catalyze regional economic growth and development," through $10 billion in funding. The act aims to bring universities, local governments and business leaders together to boost technological innovation.

“Investing in research and development will strengthen North Dakota’s economy,” Ryan said.

The board also approved changes to its compliance charter. The charter is tasked with detecting and reporting unethical conduct within NDUS and its institutions.

The office of compliance will report directly to the vice chancellor for administrative affairs. The board’s audit committee will also review the compliance charter on an annual basis.

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In other news from the board

  • The staff senate report, presented by Staff Advisor Michael Linnell, urged the board to adopt uniform language among its institutions, pertaining to sick leave policy for staff mental health concerns.
  • Chancellor Mark Hagerott stressed the need for cyber security literacy among NDUS’ students, following instances of compromised security. He noted that courses on the subject are in the works.
  • The NDUS Foundation discussed a $2 million grant awarded to Bismarck State College nursing program. Tim Mihalick, chair of the foundation, said that workforce retention in the nursing field is a priority, and the grant should help to alleviate the shortage.
  • Nick Hacker of the audit committee spoke of workforce related challenges within his committee. These center on a lack of appropriations to fill a vacancy on the accounting team. “We will have to resort to contracted work from local CPA firms, until this appropriations issue is resolved,” said Hacker.
Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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