North Dakota's new chancellor of higher education, Hamid Shirvani, has proposed a series of reforms to bring accountability, quality and standards to the state's university system. In embracing cooperation with community colleges, Shirvani has put forward a model for education to which other states should pay close attention.
Under Shirvani's proposal, applicants to the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University, the state's two research universities, would have to demonstrate their abilities through a combination of test scores and high school achievements.
Other proposed changes include:
- Creating a North Dakota High School to College Success Report, which would basically be a way to let parents, educators and policymakers know how North Dakota K-12 students are performing at the collegiate level. This report would be readily available to anyone seeking the information. The objective is to increase the quality and readiness of students entering the North Dakota University System...
- A requirement that all remedial education courses be handled by the community colleges. No longer would UND or NDSU faculty be teaching remedial courses to incoming students. Currently, 23 percent of all university system students require remedial education. At UND the percentage is 5.4 percent, and 13.6 percent at NDSU. Dickinson State’s numbers are 28 percent, according to statistics provided by Shirvani.
- Additionally, all dual-credit courses, in other words courses taken by high school students for college credits, would be the responsibility of the community colleges.
These requirements match principles often advocated by Business Roundtable's president, John Engler. High school students should be ready to go to college without remediation or be able to enter the workforce with the skills necessary to succeed, Engler argues. And, community colleges should reach into high schools to provide the training to put students on the right path toward success.
Shirvani's proposal comes at a time when the public discussion is growing about a "higher education bubble," that is, whether students, parents and taxpayer are being ill-served by the high costs and low quality of a four-year university education, and if, indeed, the entire system could collapse. North Dakota has its own unique challenges, i.e., a too-larged university system with 11 colleges guaranteed by the state constitution. Local economic interests have in the past trumped educational priorities, and the system has suffered from some high-profile controversies over the past several years.
Time to move foward, and it's encouraging to see a chancellor propose reforms that could bring both greater quality and accountability to a university system. Other states should watch closely.
(For purposes of disclosure, your correspondent used to cover the North Dakota university system in the '90s before working for the governors, who set the system's budget. Seems like a long time ago.)
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