INFORUM: Higher ed officials tout workforce contribution

By Dave Olson

When it comes to helping solve the area's workforce shortage, five schools are better than one.

That was consensus that emerged Tuesday during an Eggs & Issues breakfast hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, which featured representatives from five area institutions of higher education.

"We need to collaborate for the sake of our communities. Yes, we are competitors, but we also support one another," said William Craft, president of Concordia College, who outlined some things Concordia is doing that are tied to workforce development, including recently introducing a new major in finance, a new concentration in agribusiness and a new master's degree program in nutrition.

Joseph Bessie, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said colleges are economically valuable for a number of reasons, including the population/consumer base they create and the workers they provide when students graduate.

"One of the ways we help the community is by bringing in people," Bessie said.

John Richman, president of North Dakota State College of Science based in Wahpeton, said his school is expanding offerings in areas that include information technology, and paramedic and nursing programs.

"We are about workforce," Richman said, adding that one challenge schools like NDSCS face is educating people about the value of an associate degree.

He said some companies realize that and are picking up the entire cost of a college education for some workers.

As far as the cost of education, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, which has a campus in Moorhead, will soon introduce several new scholarship options that will allow students to attend college tuition-free, said Carrie Brimhall, vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer at MSCTC.

"We don't want cost to be a barrier to meeting workforce demand," Brimhall said.

She said MSCTC has 44 programs that students can complete in a year or less, and the school has started putting classrooms on wheels to make programs more accessible to students, particularly in rural communities.

"We're bringing education to our region," she said.

Dean Bresciani, president of North Dakota State University, said NDSU has been mindful of where it grows its enrollment and he said university now has the highest enrollment of students in health-related professions in the state of North Dakota.

He said that fact will be critical to communities across the state, including Fargo, where Sanford Health is building a new medical center.

"As the new Sanford facility opens, they're going to face their own struggle, staffing that with nurses," Bresciani said.

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