Forum editorial: Strength through partners

Editorial by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

The average starting salary for graduates of the North Dakota State College of Science at Wahpeton is $35,364 a year. The highest reported beginning salary is $50,832 for 2012-13. That’s not bad for graduates of a two-year program. What’s more, the college has a placement rate of 98 percent. Many students have a job waiting for them when they enroll.

The demand for NDSCS graduates is especially acute in allied health occupations, such as nursing, as well as in diesel mechanics studies. Diesel mechanics are so sought after that heavy equipment dealers pay for qualified students’ tools and tuition, and also pay them a salary, with step increases for their on-the-job training. A permanent job awaits them upon graduation, with more than 60 percent staying in North Dakota.

Given numbers like those, it’s not surprising that enrollment at NDSCS last fall, with 3,168 students, was the highest in 30 years. The achievements of President John Richman, his faculty and staff have gained recognition, including being identified last year by the Aspen Institute as ranking among the top 10 percent of community colleges in the nation. Last year, Washington Monthly ranked NDSCS third among the nation’s two-year colleges.

A hallmark of the school’s approach is to form partnerships with industry. Corporate partners contribute equipment; students learn on up-to-date technology. Industries provide guidance so the school’s graduates have skills to match what’s needed in the field. In fact, if industry support is lacking, the college might discontinue a program, since it would be counterproductive to produce graduates who were trained on out-of-date equipment.

NDSCS administrators continue working on a plan, which will be unveiled early in the new year, to accommodate growth at its north Fargo campus, which opened 17 years ago. Whether through new educational tools – NDSCS offers more than 170 courses and 12 academic options online – or added space, Richman promises the growth plan will be driven by program needs that are responsive to market demands.

All of this is welcome news for a state that finds itself challenged as never before to train and place workers to sustain an economy humming from the oil boom and robust growth in other sectors, as shown by the 25,000 openings listed by Job Service. Some estimates place the number more than double that, since not all employers participate in the online registry. North Dakota must attract and train more qualified workers to keep the locomotive on track. NDSCS is playing a crucial role in that effort.

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