INFORUM: Fargo area lacking in associate degrees

By Kia Farhang

With a booming economy and low unemployment, the Fargo area doesn’t lack much.

But it could use more workers with associate degrees and certificates, particularly in the health, finance and IT fields, according to a state university system report.

Echoing a national and statewide issue, some in the business community say rapid growth has led to a shortage of qualified job candidates for positions that don’t require a four-year degree.

“Basically, the demand is outstripping the capabilities of our education partners,” said Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

To combat the gap, Gartin and others stress the importance of higher education working with business and tailoring programs to best prepare students for the workforce.

Desperate needs

Both in Fargo and statewide, most career fields have a steady supply of candidates with bachelor’s degrees ready to jump in, according to a master plan prepared for the North Dakota University System.

It’s only at the sub-baccalaureate level – jobs requiring associate degrees or certificates – that supply doesn’t always meet demand.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bakken region is in desperate need of maintenance and repair workers, for example.

Fargo lacks loan officers, personal bankers, computer support specialists and pharmacy technicians, among other jobs, the report said.

Some schools in the Fargo-Moorhead area are already working with businesses to fill the gaps.

The Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead is tailoring some degree and certificate programs to better prepare students. Minnesota State University Moorhead officials host “sector breakfasts” with business leaders to find out what the school can do better.


“That’s the kind of collaboration and communication between education and business that can have a really powerful end result,” Gartin said.

Some in the area, particularly in the health field, say their outreach and cooperation with educational institutions has allowed them to keep their pool of candidates well-stocked.

F-M Ambulance workers, for example, teach the emergency medical technician and paramedic programs at North Dakota State College of Science.

But there’s no full two-year educational institution on this side of the Fargo-Moorhead area. NDSCS’ current facility here is a satellite center.

The school wants to change that with a full Fargo campus, which it says could reach an enrollment of 1,500 students and meet the growing workforce needs in eastern North Dakota.

If approved by the state Board of Higher Education, the $65 million project would be built in stages.

At the statewide level, the board has already proposed a tuition freeze at two-year schools. Lower tuition could help students get an education and prepare them for further schooling or the workforce, said board chairwoman Kirsten Diederich.

“It’s kind of like the gateway,” she said. “Get them in there, get them started and let them choose their path.”

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