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VIEWPOINT: NDUS examines funding, accountability for students

BISMARCK -- In the 1990s, a sense of urgency developed around the need to reverse North Dakota's demographic decline and economic trends. In response to these challenges, in 1999, a group of 61 private sector, government and education leaders ent...

BISMARCK -- In the 1990s, a sense of urgency developed around the need to reverse North Dakota's demographic decline and economic trends.

In response to these challenges, in 1999, a group of 61 private sector, government and education leaders entered into a unique compact called the Roundtable on Higher Education. Initiated by the Legislative Assembly, these leaders refused to accept a negative view of the state's future and saw the North Dakota University System as an integral part of reversing these trends. Roundtable members looked at the state from an outside-in perspective and examined the funding methodology and accountability system needed to position the NDUS as an economic engine for the state, while at the same time maintaining its commitment to academic excellence.

Now, nine years later, the success of this nationally recognized initiative resonates on each of the 11 NDUS campuses and throughout North Dakota. State economic and demographic trends are being reversed, and government and education leaders are strongly committed to partnerships -- rather than competing responses -- to the issues and challenges that lie ahead. Evidence of this commitment to aligning higher education with the needs of the state is apparent in discussion topics focused on by the Interim Legislative Workforce Committee and the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee.

In this period of dramatic change and the need for increased responsiveness to public expectations, the State Board of Higher Education and the NDUS must demonstrate commitment to good stewardship of the state's financial resources. The vitality of the NDUS must be incorporated into fiscal policy decisions so that the University System can continue to meet the academic, economic and social demands of our state.

Students and their families clearly have communicated the importance of holding down the cost of higher education. We must do everything in our power to ensure that affordability does not limit access to higher education. For this reason, one of the top 2009-11 NDUS budget priorities is increasing state funding for needs-based financial aid. If fully funded, the biennial budget plan also will limit four-year university tuition increases to no more than 4 percent and will hold community college tuition rates at the 2008-09 levels.


Another issue brought forward by parents and students is the need for more and improved academic and career planning. If funded, an initiative in the 2009-11 NDUS budget request will provide resources to begin implementation of career planning recommendations included in a report by a task force on P-16 education.

Closely linked to the need for better career counseling are the work-force and skill shortages reported by business and industry. As a state higher education system, we must be responsive to the needs of private sector business, and we must do so with a sense of urgency. That is the reasoning behind the 2009-11 NDUS budget request for resources to assist with new technical and academic program startup costs and to collaboratively deliver programs to underserved markets through initiatives such as a higher education center. Efficiency, productivity and good stewardship of state resources will guide the 11 NDUS institutions as they partner with the private sector to help build a solid future for our state.

While building relationships throughout the state, we also must respond to critical needs on the campuses. The 2009-11 NDUS budget request includes funding to address campus security so that students, faculty and staff can learn and work in a safe environment. The budget request also includes funding to provide the technological infrastructure that enhances classroom learning, supports research and expands delivery methods.

Nothing is more important to academic quality than the faculty and staff who make our institutions strong. University System campuses compete for employees in a national marketplace, thus making additional funding to retain and attract faculty and staff a critical component of the 2009-11 budget request.

NDUS colleges and universities are appreciative of the investment the people and state of North Dakota have made in campus facilities. Additional investments are needed to keep campus infrastructure up-to-date and operating safely and efficiently. This 2009-11 budget priority speaks to the importance of taking care of the facilities North Dakotans have entrusted to our care.

During the 2009 Legislative Session, policymakers will formulate fiscal plans with long-reaching implications. Each of these budget priorities should be evaluated in the context of the importance of the University System to the future of North Dakota. State leaders realize that growing the investment we make in education today will serve as the foundation for a more promising tomorrow.

In my capacity as chancellor, I feel it is important to share with you the priorities now being established that will influence change, both for the University System and the state of North Dakota. In future articles, I will discuss these and other budget priorities in greater detail.

Goetz is the chancellor of North Dakota University Systems.

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