Daily News: Future of NDSCS shows drive to take care of its students

By Frank Stanko

“Students don’t really care what we know until they know we care,” said Dr. John Richman, president of North Dakota State College of Science during his State of the College address Wednesday.

Throughout Richman’s talk, that idea was continually endorsed. It also drove much of the conversation in a subsequent forum of legislators and community leaders.

According to Barbara Spaeth-Baum, executive director of college relations and marketing at NDSCS, her office can talk about broad marketing plans, but it really comes down to getting the Twin Towns community to understand the value of a student. Richman agreed, also mentioning plans to conduct a focus group with students.

“We ask them all the time, what do you need here?” Richman said. “Now it’s about what do you need in the community.”

Richman acknowledged that the biggest obstacle in attracting students isn’t students themselves, it’s their parents. It’s a lack of awareness toward the career and education benefits that come from two-year colleges.

“If it’s not a four-year college, my child is somehow going to be behind in terms of the workforce,” said Breckenridge Public Schools superintendent Diane Cordes, summing up the opposing viewpoint. “We’re starting to see that pendulum is swinging the other way, when you consider the lessened debt load, the initial salary for two-year graduates who want to enter the workforce. So we need to tell that story bigger and bolder. There’s beliefs based on opinion and then there’s data.”

During his address, Richman summed up NDSCS’ recent list of requests to the state Office of Management and Budget. While NDSCS is not asking for restoration of its full state-allocated budget, it is asking for restoration of full funding to North Dakota’s career and technical education programs. For Richman, career and technical education programs are a major pipeline for future NDSCS students.

“We could (have asked for restoration of NDSCS’s funding),” he said. “What the vice presidents and I talked about … we just don’t see that being realistic and maybe not even affordable for the state to do … That’s the position we’ve chosen and that’s what we’ll roll out. Keep us at 90 percent. Don’t take us to 87, don’t take us to 85. We believe that’s the best position for us to advocate for as we enter into this next session.”

During his address, Richman reiterated why no money was used from the $13.4 million capital improvement project to prevent layoffs. It would have been possible, he said, but the capital improvement money was only going to be provided once. It wouldn’t have fit into long-term, strategic restructuring.

Richman also addressed NDSCS’ hiring of Tony Grindberg as vice president of workforce affairs in the midst of a layoff period. The position, Richman continued, came from restructuring of the dean of college outreach position. A portion of Grindberg’s salary comes from a state grant, but it also comes from workforce affairs’ renewable funding streams, such as selling training and renting out its facilities.

“The spring semester and the summer was a very disruptive time on our campus,” Richman said. “To lose a parking spot or to not have water or power for a time, that’s frustrating. But when you lose an office colleague or you lose a co-worker, it hurts. And it hurts bad. It’s been a disruptive time.”

Reducing its budget did not cause NDSCS to take a step back, Richman told his guests.

“However, it has caused us to stand still,” he continued. “We’re in a process of determining policy, procedures, practices, possibilities. We’re assessing all of those to determine which ones we will keep, which ones will have to be adjusted and which ones we’ll have to eliminate. We’re also in the process of restructuring several leadership positions due to those being eliminated due to the restructure.

“Sometime this spring, we will find our new normal. And when we do, NDSCS will move forward once again. This institution has done it a number of times during its 114 years and it will do it again.”

During his address, Richman alluded to hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who was asked why he did so well. According to Gretzky, it isn’t that he skates to where the puck is, it’s because he skates to where the puck is going.

“Get ready for the next generation,” Richman said.

Read the full article online at wahpetondailynews.com

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