Student voice plays vital role on State Board of Higher Education
Earlier this week, Gov. Doug Burgum appointed UND student Kaleb Dschaak to a one-year term as the student representative on the State Board of Higher Education. Dschaak’s role on the board, while unique in itself, will be especially pivotal as the UND student will likely get to vote on who gets to become the next president at the university.
Dschaak, who graduated from Dickinson High School in 2015 and likely will graduate from UND in spring 2020 with majors in marketing and political science, said it would be an honor to be a part of the process that helps pick the next UND president.
While he hopes to be a part of the search committee, having a student voice with pivotal input is an important part of the process, Dschaak said.
“Student participation in the process is wildly important especially when selecting someone who is so monumentally influential in students’ course of education at the University of North Dakota,” he said. “We have 15,000 students that are going to be impacted by this decision, so it’s important for their voices to be heard.”
Beyond the presidential search, Dschaak is excited to make an impact on the state board.
“I think (having a student representative) gives the board and decision makers in the state direct access to their main customer, the students,” he said. “I think it provides perspective on policies being passed and the needs of students.”
Dschaak has served as president of the North Dakota Student Association, vice president of the UND student body and president of the Future Business Leaders of America.
Dschaak also has been a policy intern for University Information Technology at UND and worked on the first nationwide student bill of rights regarding data privacy and security.
“Kaleb’s extensive experience in student government and information technology, along with his business and budgeting background, makes him well-suited to represent students during this period of rapid change in higher education driven by technological, demographic and economic forces,” Burgum said in a statement.
Dschaak decided to submit an application for the state board position because he wanted to continue his service and dedication to students in North Dakota.
Dschaak would like to see the state board do more work with K-12 schools to address all of the options students have available to them, whether that includes adding more dual-credit class options to bring the cost of college down or magnifying the importance of trade degrees to help students get into the workforce more quickly.
Dschaak also would like to see more work done with tele-mental health programs to ensure college students are able to access mental health resources even if they live in rural areas.
Ensuring college is affordable is also a priority for Dschaak.
While board members typically serve up to eight years, student terms are one year, normally beginning in July. Board chair Don Morton, who has been on the state board for almost eight years, said students play an important role in the process.
“They do bring a student perspective, they do contribute and their opinion is very much valued,” Morton said.
Though students have been a part of the board since 1977, students became a voting member on the board in 1995.
Many boards throughout the United States, including the University of Minnesota Board of Regents and the University of Colorado Board of Regents, do not include students.
Morton said having students serve one-year terms allows more students to become a part of the process.
“It can be a very positive experience for the student and, by changing every year, we give many other students a chance,” he said. “We also get a variety of campus perspectives.”
While a faculty and staff representative are also on the board, they are not voting members. Morton said this is done to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, noting the faculty and staff members would be voting on issues that impact their manager or other colleagues.
“Faculty and staff members are also invaluable, they participate in the discussion and do everything that a board member does, but they just can’t vote,” he said.
Outgoing student representative Ashley Thornton said the past year has been a learning experience, but felt she was able to learn more about the university system and understand what goes on behind the scenes. Thornton, a student at Williston State College, said she also has been able to develop a lot of positive relationships with campus leadership across the university system.
“It honestly helped me be a better advocate for students because I actually saw where conflicts or issues were arising, then I was able to offer better insight and solutions for students and the board,” she said.
Board members can spend hours upon hours dealing with various board-related items, whether it’s dealing with campus-centric issues, replying to emails or preparing for and working through board meetings. However, students have to balance that with their schooling and other aspects of their lives.
Thornton works full-time, while also going to school and being a mother, she said. Thornton dedicates at least half an hour to an hour each day to deal with emails and read stories dealing with higher education and the local campuses, in addition to reading reports and many other things.
“It was quite a balancing act,” she said. “The board is constantly trying to work on its efficiency, so I don’t feel like it’s overwhelming by any means.”
During her time on the board, Thornton has used her voice to advocate for students on a number of issues, including bring perspective on potential Title IX changes and ensuring there were certificate programs available that could be used for workforce training.
Thornton said it was always important for her to bring issues back to the students, no matter the topic. She often would reach out to student leaders on various campuses to understand their thoughts on matters as well.
Thornton said having a student voice on the board offers a different perspective for board members, who are typically older and have been away from college for a length of time. The student representative understands very well what students are going through on a day-to-day basis in a way that other board members can’t.
“I think it’s so important because, at the end of the day, the student population is why the board is there,” she said. “Of course, the board is there to run things behind the scenes and activate policy and support the staff and faculty, but, at the end of the day, the student is the end result.”