It is difficult for many people familiar with higher education to understand how the North Dakota University System could fall from a national model of the 2000s to a source of frustration and dissatisfaction in 2013.
These circumstances are not new. Similar discontent reached a boiling point in the 1999 legislative session. Thoughtful leaders stepped forward; 61 of them came together to develop a vision and strategies and accountability measures that led to formation of a first-rate system. The group became known as the Roundtable on Higher Education.
The results of the roundtable are evident on every campus, and in communities and businesses throughout the state. “Flexibility with accountability” empowered campuses and established expectations of each institution. Invigorating the university system with an entrepreneurial spirit led to dramatic increases in accessibility, affordability and seamless transfer among institutions as well as rapid growth in public/private sector partnerships. Today, the NDUS leads the nation in the percentage of students (74 percent) who start at a two-year college and graduate from a two-year or four-year institution.
By many measures, the roundtable has been a success. It demonstrated the power and potential of public colleges and universities to expand educational opportunities for students while also contributing to growth in the state’s economy. These achievements were recognized with numerous honors, including the 2002 Innovations Award from the Council of State Governments. Legislators and higher education leaders who attended national conferences frequently were asked to provide presentations about the success of the roundtable.