Lawmakers: NDSU's Enrollment Growth Plan Is The Wrong Priority

ndsu north dakota state university NDSU president dean bresciani

Recently North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani announced that he’d like to aggressively inflate his school’s enrollment, increasing it by as much as 24 percent, over the next five years. But the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Legislature’s interim Higher Education Funding Committee are skepitcal that this is the right priority.

I wrote about it over at Watchdog today:

President Dean Bresciani announced his goal during his 2015 State of the University address earlier this month, identifying it as a goal that must be met to get membership in the American Association of Universities.

“I have identified three targets we need to accomplish if we’re to reach AAU status,” he said. “First, we need to pursue an enrollment of 18,000 students. That number gives us the size needed to be able to broaden our options, but is not so large that we lose our student focus.”

But Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican from Grand Forks who chairs the Legislature’s interim Higher Education Funding Committee, says Bresciani’s goal is a distraction from the priorities set out by the university system, which aim to improve how existing students are served.

“They’ve got a updated plan that they’ve unveiled this year,” Sanford told Watchdog, referring to the State Board of Higher Education. “A critical part of that talks about completion and quality as being the primary goals. I guess I tend to agree with that, that those are the top of agenda.”

“If you look at the retention and completion issues, they’re real,” Sanford continued. “And to be adding more students before you have a better handle on those issues, it seems to me you should be figuring out the retention and completion issues.”

Seems like a legitimate point to me, especially given that boosting enrollment that much will likely come at a significant cost to taxpayers. “They’re going to ask more buildings. It’s going to mean a lot more expense,” Rep. Roscoe Streyle, the Vice Chairman of the interim committee, told me. “They apparently don’t have enough room or money or staff to deal with the current enrollment, where are they going to get this money from to support that many more students?”

Already NDSU is pulling heavily from out of state to boost enrollment, although fall enrollment at the university has increased less than 1 percent over the last five years. While the number of North Dakota residents enrolling at NDSU has declined more than 13 percent since 2005, out of state enrollment has increased more than 65 percent.

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But it might be worthwhile to attract more out of state students to North Dakota. After all, even with oil prices tanking, the state is still dealing with significant labor shortages. But what’s problematic is that NDSU doesn’t seem to be serving the students it already has all that well.

From the article:

“Particularly at our two largest institutions, the board has talked about the need for quality,” Sanford said, pointing out that graduation rates at NDSU and the University of North Dakota have troubled some lawmakers.

In 2011, the last year for which data is available from the Chronicle of Higher Education, NDSU graduated just 22.8 percent of first-time, full-time students in four years. The six year graduation rate was 52.6 percent. The national average for on-time graduation from four-year public institutions is over 33 percent, and over 57 percent for six-year completions.

Streyle says that increasing enrollment is the wrong priority for the university.

“It’s time to focus on the quality not the quantity,” Streyle said.

Unfortunately, the goal of the campus administrators seems to be not so much serving students but building bigger campuses and justifying bigger payrolls. From that perspective, quantity matters more than quality.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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