A college education is still a worthwhile investment, especially in North Dakota

By Mark Hagerott, Chancellor, North Dakota University System

The value of higher education has been a hot topic in the national press recently, especially in the context of the pandemic, rising costs, and changing labor markets. Critics argue that higher education is not worth the investment or that it is irrelevant. Some large companies and employers have dropped education requirements from the hiring process, prioritizing an applicant’s skills and experience, later providing necessary training in-house at the companies’ expense. 

In North Dakota, home to many farms and small businesses, the State Board of Higher Education and the University System are closely aligned with business and industry leaders. We work together to offer programs that prepare our students for success in the workforce. We do this while continuing to find ways to keep college education affordable.

Looking to the future, the State Board has asked the question, “What will the world look like when today’s first grader graduates from high school?” The answers are starting to emerge from an Envision 2035 study that started last spring. Nine study groups are looking at everything from energy, agriculture and healthcare to the student and the teacher of the future. An overriding theme is clearly the transformational impact that digitization is having on society. The results of these in-depth study topics will help frame the long-term health of higher education in North Dakota. 

One of North Dakota’s more unique and successful ventures has been the Career Builders Scholarship and Loan Repayment Program. The program is designed to help businesses to attract and retain talent in high-need and emerging occupations in the state. It’s unique in that it is a dollar-for-dollar matching program whereby the state will contribute $1 for every $1 of private-sector matching dollars received for a recipient.

In 2023, 113 Career Builders scholarships were awarded. The private sector, with a state match, has committed $2.4 million in scholarships in 2023, while $1.9 million was committed to loan repayments. Since 2022, there has been a 40 percent increase in recipients and a 30 percent increase in private donors through the Career Builders program.

One of the State Board’s goals is to provide access to programs people want, where and when they need them. We are doing this with new educational programs and creative delivery methods. Our institutions have created 294 new, in-demand certificate programs during the past three years, and we are now offering 1,100 certificates throughout our university system. 

A certificate can give someone an earned skill in as little as three courses. Many certificates are offered remotely, allowing students to remain in their communities while advancing their education. A sample of certificates include education in cyber security, data entry, digital marketing, UAS systems, engineering, and many more emerging fields. Certificates can be bundled or stacked, leading to an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree, giving students flexibility in how they achieve their educational goals and giving our institutions latitude in creating a broad set of relevant, work-related programs. 

North Dakota continues to develop methods to bolster student affordability and accessibility. In 2022, the University System’s student loan indebtedness was lower than the national average. We want to keep it this way and during the last legislative session, our lawmakers enabled us to freeze tuition over the next two years. Additionally, NDUS institutions during the 2021-2022 academic year issued $121.4 million to students in scholarships, grants, and waivers.  

I encourage our high school students, and those who might have some college but never finished, to consider pursuing a college degree. It’s worth the investment in your future. Find more information about the options available to you at ruready.nd.gov and insights.nd.gov/College.