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Carlson proposes study to unify ND's two-year colleges

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, second from right. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK—The top leader in the North Dakota House presented the State Board of Higher Education with a proposal to study ways to improve the state's two-year career and vocational programs in a meeting Thursday, March 30.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, told board members he is working on a legislative plan that would make $40,000 available to pay a consultant to help in the review, with the goal of boosting workforce development with a more unified system.

"We hope you take this initiative," Carlson said, adding that it was not intended to be heavy-handed. He said later: "I'm convinced we need to up our game on the career and technical side."

As a contractor, Carlson said he has had to hire graduates from Minnesota because North Dakota does not turn out enough electricians and others skilled trades workers. As a result, North Dakota is losing students to neighboring states.

"We need them to stay here," Carlson said.

Under the amendment to a higher education bill proposed by Carlson, the board's reorganization study would be required to explore two-year schools sharing a number of services, including administration, courses, admissions, housing and financial aid. The board would also be required to propose legislation in the 2019 legislative session that would enact the recommendations of its study.

Kathleen Nest, who chairs the higher education board, welcomed Carlson's suggestion.

"I do think this is exactly the direction the board needs to be going," she said. "We're mandated to be a system."

Board members voted to accept the proposal and pledged to explore ways to improve vocational, technical and community college programs, including certificate programs that meet employers' needs.

Carlson also spoke in favor of North Dakota State University's proposed nursing program expansion, which still requires legislative approval but got a green light from the higher ed board.

The board approved a request by NDSU to raise up to $28 million for a six-story addition to Sudro Hall. NDSU already has received $20 million in unsolicited donations to expand the nursing program to address the area's chronic shortage of nurses.

The project would allow NDSU to double the yearly graduates from its nursing program, now constrained by a lack of space. The program now graduates 176 nurses at its campus in Fargo and a site in Bismarck, and is working to expand to 208, with the goal of reaching 364 with the new addition, said Charles Peterson, NDSU's dean of the College of Health Professions.

Expanding the program also requires local health providers to make clinical training opportunities available. Health systems, including Sanford Health and Essentia Health, have been working with the program, and Peterson said he is optimistic the needed clinical training opportunities will be available.

Sudro Hall is now so crowded that the nursing program's offices are scattered among four locations near campus, NDSU officials have said.

At $20 million, the Sudro addition would add about 93,000 square feet, or be about 1½ times larger than the present size of Sudro, which has two levels above ground.

"We would proceed as immediately as possible," once the project gets final approval, NDSU President Dean Bresciani said. Although the Sudro expansion will not involve state funds, legislative approval is required. Officials expect the addition could be built within 1½ to two years.

NDSU's expansion proposal isn't the only local plan to grant more nursing degrees. Minnesota State University Moorhead is considering resurrecting its bachelor of nursing program. MSUM now has a program that allows registered nurses to obtain a bachelor's degree, which sometimes is required for advancement.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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