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Published August 28 2009

Forum editorial: NDSU plan for growth is working

It is likely that when final numbers are in, North Dakota State University’s fall enrollment will approach 14,000, a milestone in at least two ways.

First, enrollment has surpassed the university’s expectations. Administrators have been reluctant to characterize recent enrollment gains as goals achieved. Rather, rising student population was seen as a result of university improvements that would naturally attract more students.

Second, an enrollment trend that began about six years ago has proven to be sustainable, thus establishing NDSU as the state’s largest campus, a distinction held for decades by the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks. UND’s preliminary fall enrollment is about 12,500, or some 1,500 fewer students than at NDSU. More telling, however, is the rate of growth over 2008. NDSU’s was 7.6 percent; UND’s was 1.6 percent.

The enrollment gains should come as no surprise. NDSU’s administration set about changing the face of the university when Joseph Chapman became president about eight years ago. Chapman and his team laid out a program of growth and change that seemed wildly ambitious. But at each step along the way, dreams became proposals, proposals became plans of action and plans became reality, often in less time than anticipated.

Achievements that raised NDSU’s national and international profile included an expanded research sector; functioning partnerships with business and industry; new student housing on the main campus; extraordinary development of the downtown Fargo campus; emphasis on development of graduate degree programs; enhancement of undergraduate studies.

Visionary campus leadership took full advantage of flexibility and accountability doctrines laid out by the Higher Education Roundtable and the state Board of Higher Education. The Legislature increased funding and turned back ill-considered attempts to micromanage the University System.

Finally, NDSU’s skillfully managed move to Division I sports raised the school’s profile among potential students who otherwise might not have considered coming to Fargo. Dual emphasis on academic/research excellence and D-I athletics has been an overall winner for the school and the state. Enrollment trends are a sure sign of success.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.