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Published August 16 2012

Forum editorial: The failure is rooted in schools

There is much to consider and analyze in an ambitious plan to put “system” back in the North Dakota University System. New Chancellor Ham Shirvani and Higher Education Board President Duaine Espegard outlined the proposal earlier this week for The Forum Editorial Board. Thus far, the reception has been positive and even upbeat, not only among campus administrators but also among key legislators. Shirvani is a no-nonsense, highly experienced, data-driven chancellor who brings new eyes, new ideas and new energy to one of the most challenging public jobs in the state.

As fine-tuning and then implementing the blueprint over a period of several years begins, a couple of troubling statistics raise eyebrows. First, graduation rates for the system are abysmal – 48 percent over six years, not the traditional four years. Second, the percentage of freshman students requiring remedial work on campus ranges from just over 5 to nearly 14.

Compounding the above numbers, just 25 percent of North Dakota ninth-graders finish high school on time, go to college and earn a degree within six years.

Of all the topics the chancellor’s initiative will tackle – from admission requirements to student fees to tuition waivers to system-wide standards – the knottiest problem might be raising the bar for college preparation in high schools. But of this, there can be little doubt: When college graduation rates are so low and when an inordinate slice of campus resources goes to remedial studies, the problem lies not on campus, but in public schools that are supposed to prepare students for college work. Clearly they are not.

The board and chancellor would develop what they characterize as a “report card to the high schools from the colleges.” It would trace the success or lack thereof of individual students and report results to their hometown schools. Those schools, therefore, would know if their graduates had in fact attained the skills that their grades suggested they had.

While a report card for high schools might cause consternation at first, it can become a vital tool in helping schools develop curriculum and learning environments that better serve students on their way to higher education. After all, what’s the point of “preparing” a student for college when the preparation is so inadequate it either requires remedial work or guarantees failure?

Chancellor Shirvani, with the higher ed board’s enthusiastic support, is charting a course that recognizes the progress of the past decade and at the same time aims higher. The high school preparation aspect of their work is but one part of the plan, but it’s as basic and important a factor as any.


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


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