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ND task force on higher education governance meets for first time

Gov. Doug Burgum listens during the first meeting of the Task Force for Higher Education Governance Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 at Bismarck State College. North Dakota Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, left, and Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle smile in the background. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK—Gov. Doug Burgum convened the first meeting of the Task Force for Higher Education Governance Friday, Jan. 12, urging a forward-looking approach in a university culture that's often steeped in tradition.

The task force, created through an executive order in November, will examine the state's higher education governance structure. Burgum has traced the current structure to a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1938 that created the State Board of Higher Education.

Burgum, the committee's chairman, said the traditional higher education model is facing pressure from things like rapid technological improvements and soaring student debt.

"I believe we've got a higher education bubble," he told the 15-member panel at Bismarck State College.

The governor emphasized, however, that the effort isn't about closing campuses.

"(The) mission of this group is how do we create a governance structure that allows our two-year, our four-year and our research universities to flourish in this new environment," Burgum said.

The meeting included presentations on other states' governance models and the history of higher education in North Dakota.

Prior to statehood, the territorial Legislative Assembly established the University of North Dakota and a board of regents in 1883. More recently, in 2014, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have replaced the higher education board with a three-member commission.

Larry Isaak, a former chancellor of the North Dakota University System who was scheduled to present to the panel, said it's not unusual for states to examine their higher education system structures. He's now president of the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.

"There is significant change going in terms of higher education delivery," Isaak said. "There are so many ways of obtaining knowledge and information. It's how we package those and how they will be packaged differently in the future."

The task force will develop recommendations for the Legislature to consider in 2019.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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