UND one of two universities in the nation to earn innovation award for higher ed challenges

UND was recognized because of work done there to find new and innovative ways to make the local community a better place to live, learn, work and play.

UND logo

GRAND FORKS — UND is one of a pair of American universities that have been awarded the American Council on Education’s ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation.

According to an ACE news release, UND received the award along with MassBay Community College in Massachusetts. The award was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges in innovative ways and achieved dramatic changes in a relatively brief period. The award includes a $10,000 prize.

UND President Andrew Armacost accepted the award at a ceremony in San Diego, California, on Sunday, March 6.

“The University of North Dakota is truly honored and grateful to be recognized as an institution of higher education responding to the difficult challenges of our times through innovation and creativity,” Armacost said. “We approach our mission with a commitment to serve the needs not only of our students and the surrounding community, but also of North Dakota, the Upper Midwest region, and our nation.”

Local education is not adequately funded so diverting limited available funds would deprive local school districts of critical funds.

According to the release, UND was recognized because of work done there to find new and innovative ways to make the local community a better place to live, learn, work and play, which culminated with the university and Grand Forks receiving the Larry Abernathy Award from the International Town & Gown Association in May 2021.


What started as a partnership with the city to address potholes on University Avenue then expanded to pairing student interns in city departments and cost-sharing internships at early-stage companies. A workforce development initiative was then created that aligns coursework, curricula and labs to meet the needs of students and employers.

ACE also noted a dramatic 48% increase in Grand Forks residents aged 25 to 39. The demographic boom has been attributed in large part to UND’s strategies focused on incorporating work-integrated learning in the classroom, along with its internship programs.

Also cited by ACE is UND’s partnership with the U.S. Space Force and the state. In August, UND became the first university to join the U.S. Space Force’s University Partnership Program dedicating $8 million to faculty recruitment and space initiatives. The state has also provided $14 million for space-related infrastructure at UND, and to boost its ability to respond to the needs of the Space Force, as well as other agencies.

ACE President Ted Mitchell said the awards to UND and MassBay are “well-deserved.”

“The University of North Dakota and MassBay Community College should serve as examples of the types of innovation and transformation that benefits not just their own students but the communities they serve,” Mitchell said.

MassBay was recognized for addressing a student retention problem related to basic needs. The community college conducted a study that found 52 % of students were suffering from low or very low food security. Students were missing classes or were unable to keep up with course work because of situations they were facing in their personal lives. The college put in place different programs that connected students with food, housing, transportation and other necessities, through its recently formed Student Nourishment and Care Committee.

UND was recognized in the category of institutions with student populations of more than 12,001 people, while MassBay was recognized for institutions with less than 12,000 students.

The American Council on Education is a membership organization that represents all types of American degree granting institutions both public and private, with more than 1,700 member organizations. Financial services company Fidelity Investments is a sponsor of the award.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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