Interim chancellor talks higher ed partnership with business
By Kari Lucin
“We’re looking at a bright future. We’re going to work together,” said Larry Skogen, who officially begins as interim chancellor on Friday.
Skogen was one of several people engaging the topic of higher education and its relationship with business and industry at the 2013 Fall Conference of the Economic Development Association of North Dakota.
“Our goal, obviously, is that our students reach their fullest potential,” Skogen said.
That means, Skogen said, that they need not only job-specific skills that make students employable, but they also need the skills that will make them good employees — critical thinking, collaboration and communication.
Skogen offered up some statistics about the state’s university system, in which 52 percent of the students are North Dakota residents and 30 percent come from adjacent states. And while 77 percent of the students in the system go to universities, 23 percent are in community colleges.
“We also have stable enrollments,” Skogen said, noting that elsewhere in the nation, enrollment is down, partly because of the cost of education and partly because the economy is improving.
North Dakota ranks the 12th lowest in the cost of education, and second in the percentage of degrees in science, technology, engineering and math, Skogen said.
And in North Dakota, 61 percent of students at community colleges earn their degrees, compared to 36 percent elsewhere in the nation.
“We need to think of education as an investment, as a business investment,” Skogen said, pointing to a number of business-higher education partnerships throughout the state.
The University of North Dakota, for example, has a petroleum engineering program. In 2010, that program had seven students, but in response to the oil boom, by 2013, there were 200 students.
The North Dakota State College of Science’s diesel technology education facility is the largest in North America.
Other schools have wind towers, nursing programs and commercial driving programs, each partnering with business and industry to make the programs successful.
“What we do ask is partnerships,” Skogen said. “We need businesses to partner on this stuff.”
In an interview following Skogen’s presentation, he said his No. 1 goal is to put students back at the center of the higher education discussion.
Skogen’s chancellorship follows a turbulent year for the university system that included the tenure of Skogen’s predecessor, the embattled Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, as well as meetings of the State Board of Higher Education that were in violation of open meeting laws.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in the university system,” Skogen said.
Since then, Kirsten Diederich has become president of the board, with a platform of “trust through transparency,” Skogen said.
He acknowledged that there is an existing credibility gap that will need to be overcome, but said the university system is doing everything it can to do so.
“I believe that we need to do stuff openly and honestly,” Skogen said. “I would rather be embarrassed than illegal. I would rather do it legally.”
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at