FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said Tuesday he wants to examine the way the state’s higher education system is managed.
Burgum said during a news conference in Bismarck that he is forming a task force that will spend next year talking about ways to improve the governance structure to help meet the state’s educational and workforce needs. He said too many students are coming out of college with massive debt and wondering if their degrees are worth it.
“Part of the reason they are asking those questions is that there are new and emerging credible alternatives to higher education degrees and certifications,” Burgum said, noting that people have changed their views on the value of 2-year vs. 4-year degrees.
The North Dakota University System is managed by the state Board of Higher Education. It is made up of seven citizen members appointed to four-year terms by the governor and one student appointed by the governor to serve a one-year term.
Some lawmakers have criticized system leaders for failing to get costs under control. It currently has a budget of about $625 million. The system also has been a revolving door of chancellors, with four fulltime leaders taking turns in the last dozen years.
Republican Rep. Rick Becker, of Bismarck, told the higher education board in June that the state should look into closing some of the campuses and consolidating administrative positions.
There have been a few proposals to change the higher education governance structure in recent years. Voters in 2014 turned down an initiative that would have replaced the board with a three-member commission that reports to the governor.
“The word’s a different place than it was three years ago,” Burgum said, adding that the task force would likely look into why that idea wasn’t popular at the time.
A failed bill in the 2011 legislative session wanted to replace the higher education board and the superintendent of public instruction with a state Department of Education, which would oversee all state public education administration, from preschool through college.
Don Morton, higher education board chair, said he supports the idea of a task force.
“It’s important for our organization to look at how we can improve and better serve our students, faculty and the people of North Dakota,” Morton said.
Applications for the 15-member group are being accepted until Nov. 30. Burgum, who will chair the task force, said the group’s recommendations will not be a legal mandate.