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Good news for DSU

The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck

Enrollment at Dickinson State University this fall had fallen 42 percent in three years. The primary causes for the decline in the school population were a degree-mill type scandal involving foreign students mostly from China and inflated student enrollment numbers. It cost then-DSU President Richard McCallum his job. It was an embarrassment to everyone involved and to North Dakota in general.

Estimates are that bogus training certificates or degrees went to nearly 600 Chinese students.

D.C. Coston took the job of picking up the pieces at DSU. He was named president in 2011. The DSU administration and faculty, as well as students, have had a hard road of it the last several years. There have been audits, staff issues and accreditation scares. And Coston, while putting DSU back in working order, has been a positive voice for the university, its programs and its people.

DSU received good news last week. The national Higher Learning Commission removed the school from its watch list. The accreditation agency had put DSU “on notice” because of the scandal.

In its recent action, the commission said DSU has “provided adequate safeguards against future compliance or ethical problems.”

We’d like to think that DSU’s enrollment free fall has hit bottom and that the school can now rebuild its student body. As an educational institution, DSU has tremendous value to its local community and region. The university has cleaned house, re-established accountability and turned its focus on education and the classroom.

There are a lot of North Dakotans who over the years graduated from Dickinston State. They have a stake in the university being above reproach. They want to see DSU come back stronger than ever.

But recovery will take time. DSU had a student body of 2,482 in 2010. Now enrollment sits at 1,449 students. The school cannot make up that kind of decline overnight.

Adding students means rebuilding credibility. It’s about teaching and learning. It’s about being frank and transparent about problems. For DSU, it means being that place where people in southwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana go to get a quality education.

If there’s one thing that should have been learned as a result of DSU’s troubles, it’s that enrollment numbers are not everything, and certainly not worth fudging.

The Higher Learning Commission gave DSU a boost last week. It’s one of a number of milestones that DSU will need to pass as it regains its credibility.