The Last Things NDSU Needs Right Now Are More Students And More Buildings

Last year North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani announced plans to inflate his school’s enrollment to 18,000 students  – a nearly 25 percent increase in the next five years for a school where enrollment grew less than 1 percent to over the previous five years.

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The idea wasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm from his superiors. North Dakota University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott gently echoed the sentiments of state lawmakers by suggesting that NDSU might have better priorities like retention and graduation rates for the students the school already has.

Bresciani responded with a forceful column in the state’s newspapers dismissing both Hagerott and state lawmakers. “At North Dakota State University, we’ve heard the message loud and clear and will do our part by raising enrollment to 18,000 students over the next five years,” he wrote.

Note the use of the word “will.” As in, NDSU is going ahead despite the reservations of Hagerott and state lawmakers.

And they are going ahead. This week Bresciani pushed a new $40 million dormitory project on the State Board of Higher Education, and part of the justification is the achievement of that aggressive enrollment goal. If they’re going to pack more students on campus, then those students will need somewhere to live.

Yet this passage from the Fargo Forum report on the dormitory plan caught my eye:

Bresciani announced in October a goal of growing enrollment to 18,000 students by 2020, up from about 14,500 students last fall. Since then, the city has seen a surge of developers planning student-oriented apartment buildings in the areas surrounding NDSU, often to the dismay of nearby residential neighborhoods.

Granted, building the dormitory on-campus would mean fewer students to be customers for the housing these developers want to build. Indeed, some of the criticism of the development has made the point that NDSU ought to build more on-campus housing.

I don’t know if that’s a valid point or not, but the larger question here is Bresciani’s motivations for packing more students onto campus. Is it really about what’s best for the institution? Or this just a way to bring more students to Fargo to eat in the restaurants and rent apartments and go shopping in the stores?

Keep in mind that NDSU isn’t, in the aggregate, doing all that great of a job with the students it already has. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, NDSU graduates less than a quarter of its first-time, full-time students in four years and just roughly half of them after six years. For a four year degree.

Yes, a lot of those students end up going to other institutions. No, that is not a valid defense of NDSU’s track record:

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NDSU also has hundreds of millions of dollars worth of neglected maintenance. Some buildings are in such poor shape they’ve become safety hazards.

The new dormitory allegedly wouldn’t require any state funding, the Forum reports. But that makes no difference. NDSU has a maintenance issues with its existing buildings and a track record of academic mediocrity.

Those issues need to be addressed before the school builds more buildings and enrolls more students.

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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