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D.C. Coston: Dickinson State president: DSU took strong action

D.C. Coston

DICKINSON, N.D. — The Forum News Service story, “Debate over higher ed measure focuses on risk to accreditation,” and the coverage of the Greater North Dakota Chamber forum created anguish in the Dickinson State University community (Page A6, Aug. 14).

The story accurately portrayed what was said during the chamber’s forum. However, the comments made by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, ripped the scab off old wounds, particularly his remarks regarding a beloved member of the campus community. I wish to correct and add items not included in the leader’s comments.

First, DSU never ducked any issues but took them on squarely and methodically. To suggest otherwise is inaccurate. DSU has taken significant actions that have been reported widely, including on our website and at legislative hearings — most of which Carlson attended.

Among the actions DSU has taken are:

  •  Corrected enrollment numbers in the North Dakota University System database, in the U.S. Department of Education database, and in reports to the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits colleges and universities in the central United States.

DSU has established policies and procedures with checks and balances to assure reporting is accurate.

  •  Now almost 100 years old, DSU is proud that every degree posted on a transcript has been earned. Following the audit, the university removed nearly 400 unearned degrees. However, true to this institution’s commitment to respect the dignity of every person, our staff worked one-on-one with the affected students to prescribe the coursework necessary to earn a degree in one of our approved curricula.

Many students chose to continue working toward degrees. The “diploma mill” label coined by an enterprising reporter in 2011 is not accurate.

  •  I was asked by the State Board of Higher Education to become DSU’s acting president in August 2011. During that first semester, I worked to learn about the institution and to understand what had occurred.

Between mid-December 2011 and August 2012, the people in 28 of the 45 leadership positions at DSU changed. These changes occurred in most areas of the institution, including the Office of the President, Enrollment Services and Communications, Finance and Administration, Academic Affairs, and Student Development.

  •  Because of the issues at DSU prior to August 2011, the Higher Learning Commission in July 2012 placed DSU’s accreditation in the status of “on notice,” which is the mildest sanction the HLC uses. DSU remained accredited during this entire time.

In April 2013, the HLC sent a team to review DSU’s efforts to address past issues. The team recommended the HLC Board remove the “on notice” status, noting the institution had effectively handled all of the issues raised. In a parallel recommendation to the HLC Board, the HLC staff also recommended removal from “on notice” with the comment: “Throughout the Notice period, Dickinson State University has remained highly transparent, proactive, responsive and extremely engaged with the Commission. The institution’s efforts demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to accreditation and, as such are to be commended.”

The HLC Board of Trustees removed DSU from “on notice” on Oct. 31, 2013. These materials have been posted on the DSU website for almost a year and are publicly available.

Today, DSU is filled with a spirit of optimism. There is an infectious collegiality among students, faculty and staff. This leads to an unspoken, yet palpable, bond of respect for one another and a commitment to holding ourselves to the highest expectations.

The community, our alumni and friends, and the residents of North Dakota can remain confident we will continue to steward and uphold DSU’s tradition of excellence in education and service to the region.

Coston is president of Dickinson State University. He is former vice president for agriculture and extension at North Dakota State University.