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Published August 08 2013

Forum editorial: Chamber jumps into higher ed

The Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce is taking on a more active role in higher education. Chamber officials outlined the plan a few weeks ago for The Forum’s Editorial Board. It looks good. Details will emerge later this month when the state’s largest business organization conducts a special meeting in Bismarck.

The Chamber has always been concerned with higher education’s vital importance to business, commerce and job training. As the business sector changes rapidly, so do requirements of private sector enterprises that hire college and university graduates. The Chamber’s involvement underscores the business community’s hunger for an educated and trained workforce.

The meeting in Bismarck will bring together business leaders and the presidents of the state’s campuses. Major employer groups, including insurance and health care companies, are expected to attend. The goal, said Chamber officials, is to create and nurture communication among all stakeholders in higher education. It looks to be an impressive partnership.

Keep in mind, this new effort is not a rerun of the Education Roundtable, which was established more than a decade ago. The roundtable aimed to reset the relationships among educators, legislators and employers, and that goal was mostly accomplished. The roundtable’s initiative was a model for other states. It worked in North Dakota. The university system is better educationally and more responsive to the economy’s needs because of the roundtable’s initiatives.

The Chamber’s focus is less broad but no less important. It’s a logical next step. The intent is to help business assume a larger role in shaping the workforce. It will focus on specific strategies by which the campuses, students and potential employers can harmonize their efforts where possible. The ambitious plan affirms the value that North Dakota’s entrepreneurs vest in higher education – something a small but noisy cadre of legislators has yet to understand.

Good idea, bad idea

While the effort by the Chamber and the colleges is a good idea, the apparent decision to close the Aug. 14 meeting to media is a bad idea. At a time when transparency is paramount to restoring trust in the university system, closing a meeting at which campus presidents will be discussing policy and possibilities is monumentally stupid.

Furthermore, if the presidents attend (they should not if the session is closed), they risk violating the state’s open meetings laws. And, finally, if businesspeople want to collaborate with the campuses, meeting in the dark is a mistake. Doing so will taint the meeting, undermine the Chamber’s credibility, and stall progress.

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