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Cali Owings, Published January 17 2014

ND higher ed board still fine-tuning plan to raise admissions standards

BISMARCK – More than a year since it was introduced and approved, a plan to raise admissions standards and enhance student success at the state’s 11 colleges and universities is still under construction.

The Pathways to Student Success plan, developed by former Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, divides the state’s schools into three tiers, beefs up admissions standards at some, and aims to improve graduation and retention rates and raise the profile of the state’s colleges.

The state Board of Higher Education met Friday in a conference call to discuss the plan, approve its goals and give authority to the chancellor to implement it, but further action on the reforms was hindered by discussion of long-standing criticisms:

  • Whether the cut-off scores for automatic enrollment at the state’s research universities would result in drastic enrollment losses or if students denied admission there would enroll at one of the state’s other four-year schools.

  • If a reduction in the number of students admitted at the state’s research schools due to higher standards would be good for the schools and raise their national profile.

  • How factors like ACT test scores, high school grade point averages, core coursework and residency status should be weighted in the admissions score for each applicant.

  • Whether the plan focuses too much on graduation and retention rates.

    State board President Kirsten Diederich made it clear that it was not her intention to “scrap” Pathways, but to resolve issues and reach consensus on its goals.

    Board members indicated they still support the Pathways plan, but many points still need further consideration.

    Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen expressed a need for room to implement the plan in coordination with the college presidents.

    “Please, tell me as your interim chancellor what your goal is and I will work with the presidents,” he said.

    Skogen said different groups are looking at specific areas of the plan such as a structure for fees and tuition waivers and the admissions index formula.

    With no action taken on Friday, it’s unclear what direction the reforms – set to be fully implemented by fall 2015 – will take.

    A timeline from the system office states the plan is set for revisions as needed throughout January and February, and a final plan will be presented to the board in March.

    Based on Friday’s discussion, the board may seek a second opinion on the plan from education experts outside of the system or discuss the plan and its goals at length as part of a retreat.


    Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599