Bird's Eye View, Past and Future

Oct 3rd, 2005 @ 4:04 pm | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
Each year in a state of the university address I offer my perspective on the year past and the year ahead. This year I took a longer view, both back and ahead.

This is a watershed time for Valley City State University, not unlike ten years ago when we decided to create a technology-enriched learning environment, starting with universal use of laptops. The university has faced various kinds of monsters for many years, and I see our response to those challenges as strong evidence of our skill as change masters.

During the 1990s, some of the monsters included the effort to close colleges, the loss of two-year programs, the requirement to share administrators with Mayville State, and the decline of young people in North Dakota's rural areas.

The changes we made to address those challenges are too numerous to list, but they focus on outreach, innovation, uniqueness, partnerships, and marketing. During those years, I often used a train metaphor to encourage people to get on board and help power the train to increasingly creative and responsive heights.

During that time, we also began reaching out to private sector businesses to help them and, in so doing, to help ourselves. The two prime examples are our partnerships with Great Plains Software and the Network Center in Fargo. We also worked with the Valley Development Group on building the Regional Technology Center to incubate technology businesses.

Throughout the last 20 years or so, enrollment has varied slightly around 1,000. However, the number of North Dakotans went down from 80 percent in 1998 to 72 percent this year. The number of students from Barnes County dropped by one-third in that short seven-year period. That becomes less surprising when we note that the number of high school seniors in the county dropped by 44 percent.

In other words, a great deal of creativity, responsiveness, and flexibility has allowed the university to hold its own against severely negative demographic and competitive forces.

We aim for changes that will have both short-term and long-term benefits to students, the university, and the community. Challenges of the next decade indicate that we need to continue to pursue that strategy. Depending on which source one uses, the number of high school seniors will decline somewhere between 5 and 22 percent by 2016. The wide range of estimates reflects the fact that forecasting is imprecise.

The primary growth factors for the coming decade are the new master's degree, the new enterprise software track in business/CIS, growing online access to VCSU courses, and attractive new majors. These emphases represent further significant change for us.

We must create and nurture a successful climate for graduate study, which includes encouraging more research, accommodating working adult students, and providing appropriate scholarships and assistantships.

We must also build our partnership with Eagle Creek Software and other private sector companies that need enterprise software talent. We have found four more businesses like that in North Dakota, and each will require some customized effort on our part.

The good news is that all of this builds on our tradition and strengths, while fulfilling our vision to attract and retain talented individuals who advance quality learning experiences and economic growth through technology and innovation.