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Duaine Espegard, Published November 05 2012

Column: Investing in higher ed engine

I spent my career in the banking business, and I know how important it is to make an investment today that will pay off in the future. As president of the State Board of Higher Education, I believe an investment in the North Dakota University System will result in great dividends for our students, our communities and our state.

Our 11 campuses are strong institutions, and North Dakotans should be very proud of the high-quality education they aspire to provide to our students as well as the many valuable ways they serve their communities and the entire state. North Dakota is entering a new era, and it’s imperative that we make good decisions about where we invest the proceeds of our prosperity. What better investment than in the education of the generation who will lead our transformation from the state that has been the country’s best-kept secret to the state that is quickly becoming the envy of the world?

Now is the right time to make a strategic investment in our university system. With the direction of the board and under the leadership of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, NDUS has developed a plan to re-engineer the system structure. The re-engineering process will build on its strengths while providing greater oversight and accountability as well as more effective and efficient services. The plan has the following key objectives:

In order to make this happen, we will need to invest in functions that support both the individual campuses and sustain the integrity of the whole. The right structure with adequate staff qualified to perform these functions make this possible. We will be asking the Legislature to approve adequate funding for the chancellor’s office in the 2013-2015 biennium. I’ve heard comments that this will be a hard sell. I disagree.

Even if we just look at recent history, it should be an easy sell. The Dickinson State issue or the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University presidents’ homes expenditures could have been avoided if we were adequately staffed with compliance officers and auditors. There is currently only one auditor on staff at the system office. What we are asking is far below the level of funding in most effective higher education systems of similar size and complexity.

Our university system serves North Dakota as an economic driver that meets the workforce, research, innovation and intellectual needs of the state and its people. Those needs are going to increase as the state’s economy blossoms. To keep the university engine running smoothly, we must ensure that we have adequate staff at the heart of the system. An investment in the engine will keep the wheels on the bus down the road.

Espegard is president of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.