The City Beat hesitated a little while writing the lede in yesterday’s story about UND President Robert Kelley’s State of the University address because how do you say enrollment ofÂ 14,200 is about as big as the university really wants to be without adding all kinds of caveats?
I must’ve rephrased the lede a few times before settling on “close to the limit.” As I mentioned in the story, the caveats are that undergrad enrollmentÂ is very close to the limit, grad enrollment has a little room along with distance ed enrollment.
Professional schools such as the Law School and med school may grow if UND can persuade the Legislature to pay for expansion. The Law School is coming up on accreditation time and has been told it needs more space and renovated space. The med school needs expansion to train more doctors for the state’s rural areas, a critical need that UND hopes will be persuasive.
Walking to work this morning, I was thinking of reasons why the university shouldn’t justÂ grow as big as it can.
First, higher ed doesn’t pay for itself in the conventional sense — Dr. Kelley says it does because of the $1 billionÂ economic impact on the state. — so that means the bigger the university gets the greater the burden on taxpayers.
Second, this wouldn’t be as big an issue if the number of taxpayers expands greatlyÂ and the number of North Dakota students requiring higher edÂ also expands greatly. However, given demographic trends, neither of those things are true. A very large chunk of the student population comes out of Minnesota and many not from the immediate neighborhood. That’s a result of recruitment drives reaching down to the Twin Cities, as well as into other states.
What you want in a research university is probably a critical mass of some kind so you have a certain diversity of faculty and the ability to pull in a certain amount of research grants and contracts; this is where that economic impact comes in.Â So contraction of enrollment would be a step backwards.
But if you’ve already reached that critical mass and there’s no demographic pressure to expand undergrad enrollment, which is the majority of enrollment, I guess you don’t have to expand more.
Third, Dr. Kelley thinks there’s some attraction in being a smaller, more tight-knit university. There’s a quote that I meant to use, but forgot: “We can be distinctive as a cuampus that offers the advantages of a major research university, yet maintains much of the feel of a small liberal arts college.” That liberal arts college is what UND started as and continues to be its distinction from North Dakota State University to the south.
It’s interesting that Dr. Dick Hanson, the interim president at NDSU, had a similar sentiment regarding growth. In March, the Herald spoke with him and this is what I reported:
“It doesn’t matter if we’re bigger than UND,” North Dakota State University Interim President Dick Hanson said. “It doesn’t matter me.”
The era under which NDSU relentlessly pursued enrollment growth was at an end, he suggested, clarifying his earlier ambivalence toward the rapid expansion of the student body that his university may not have room for.
Â ”Getting bigger isn’t the point; getting better is the point,” he said Friday at a meeting with the Herald’s Editorial Board.
Â Hanson said that, unlike former President Joseph Chapman, he doesn’t believe in competing with UND by creating rival academic programs.
Dr. Hanson said all this because the pell-mell growth under Dr. Chapman was blamed for some financial problems the university faced as it ran out of room for students.
Compare this to what Dr. Kelley said yesterday:
I believe that these enrollment numbers are just about right for the physical resources of the institution.Â So, I submit to you that the challenge before us, now,Â is not so much quantity, but to continue to focus on quality.Â Of course, we will need to sustain enrollment numbers.Â But, of greater importance for the long term, focus now on enhancing the quality of the academic programs at the university; the quality of research, creative and scholarly opportunities for students and faculty; and an enhanced overall quality of the university experience at UND.
I asked him to elaborate after the speech and the first thing he mentioned was theÂ limited space in residence halls and dining halls.Â
NDSU President Dean Bresciani hasn’t said anything like that as far as I can tell — and I’m just doing some Web searchesÂ here — and he seemed to indicate in his State of the University address yesterday that he would try to address the space constraints at his university with the Legislature.
NDSU’s evolution over the past decade has reflected its increasing productivity, visibility and contributions to ever-broadening constituencies. Success in doing so has led to a consistent and dramatic increase in the level of demand for the university expressed by prospective students, scholars and business leaders not just in North Dakota, but throughout the nation and even the world. For 11 years in a row now, and reflecting our new reputation, enrollments have hit record levels.
In fact, it has been argued that, if anything, we are a victim of our own success. And although finding adequate resources to meet demand is a serious problem, I’m going to call the challenges we face to maintain our increasing success a good problem, and one that ultimately offers a strategic opportunity to better serve the state.
I kind of wonder how these subtle differences will shape out in the coming legislative sessions, if not this biennium, maybe the next or the one after?