Bismarck State College is changing its mission in an effort to help the labor market by seeking accreditation as a polytechnical institution

 

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In an effort to better support the prairie_business community and the state’s workforce needs, Bismarck State College is pursuing a change to its mission. If all goes as planned it will become an accredited polytechnical institution by next spring, offering bachelor of applied science degrees. It already is on track, offering two technical courses and adding a third this fall. 

The change does not distract from what the college already offers in the way of certificate, diploma, and associate degrees. Instead, said Dr. Dan Leingang, the college’s vice president of academic affairs, it builds upon what the school already offers and will serve a state need of qualifying more students to work in technical fields. 

What’s more, it will be the only college in North Dakota to offer polytechnical degree training. 

“We consider it more of a mission enhancement than a mission change because of everything we’re doing now,” he said. “But we're adding more, expanding more of our four-year degree options. … We’ll still do everything that we're currently doing. We're not losing our transfer mission.”

The process started about two years ago when workforce needs were evaluated in the state by several organizations, including the North Dakota Workforce Development Council. The council last spring took its findings to the state legislature, he said, along with the idea of accrediting the college -- something the State Board of Higher Education proactively proposed in September 2018. 

The technical courses approved for the college so far are in energy management and cyber security, Leingang said. Another will be reviewed this fall. 

“As soon as we make a request for the third four-year degree, it's going to be with our accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission,” he said. “That's what will trigger the sort of metamorphosis for our campus to have this new mission. … We're looking at technical four-year degrees that will reach the needs of our workforce industry partners.”

According to Leingang, polytechnical is trending across the states. 

“All across the country there are community colleges that are being challenged to do this, to offer more four-year degrees,” he said. “Typically you don't see the four-year degrees in a community college setting, but that's where we have been and that's why I think the state looked at BSC as positioned to be able to add on and do those four-year degrees. We’re already there.”

Bismarck State will play a crucial role for polytech not only in North Dakota, but in the upper Midwest. According to Leingang, the closest school with polytech is the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

Wisconsin was given its polytechnic designation in 2007. “This designation is only applicable to about 3% of universities in the U.S. and includes other highly respected polytechnic peers such as Cal Poly, Michigan Tech, and MIT,” according to information on its website. 

Leingang said BSC’s mission will be different than other colleges. 

“Every one of those states like Florida or Colorado or California, Washington, their journey is different. Some of those schools will be authorized to do bachelor of arts or bachelor of science,” he said. “For us in North Dakota, we've been given the authorization to do a bachelor of applied science, basically a technical four-year degree, so that's what we're going to do, that's how we're going to move forward.”

Bismarck State's main campus is located in Bismarck on 120 acres overlooking the Missouri River. It also has a Mandan campus.  

Leingang said the college has not yet determined what the third polytech course will be, but several topics are being considered though it most likely will be something that supports the manufacturing industry.

“We are also doing an environmental scan of the region to determine the next three to four degrees that we would consider as an institution,” he said. “And so depending on what industry needs are within the region, we will position ourselves to be able to serve and meet those through this scanning and analysis of our region. And so that's happening over the next few months, and then that data will be used to create our path forward in terms of the next batch of degrees.”

There isn’t any direct costs for the school to change its mission and, he said, it’s not so much about attracting more students as it is about helping the state’s workforce needs. 

“I think I'm most excited about the potential to serve our region,” he said. “There is a need in our community for additional education. We have adults all over the state, who either have technical degrees and are working and are looking for more educational opportunities. But then there are those out there that have some degree or some credits, but without a degree in hand. 

“I believe this is going to create awareness around the needs of our industries’ workforce in general. I think we're going to be able to support not only those that are in the field itself, but create an awareness for those that, maybe, are undereducated, meaning they have some coursework but not a degree, to come back and be retrained. And so to me, that's what's most exciting. 

“Yes, we're going to serve the needs of those that are already in industry, but I think it's really going to create an awareness for those that are looking for something different. We want to serve them as well.”

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Prairie Business Editor Andrew Weeks may be reached at aweeks@grandforksherald.com or 701-780-1276. Also find him on Twitter @PB_AndrewWeeks.