May 11th, 2004 @ 3:40 pm | Author:
I am keenly aware of my dependence on technology today. I am out of state without my laptop, and the new computer I have access to just died. I spent four hours on the phone with their tech support and customer service people today. It turns out that the hard drive is bad, and the best I can do is hope for a solution in four days. Finding a way to write and submit this column has been a creativity and stamina test.

If you have been following our adventures with the Fargo Forum recently, you know that a headline several weeks ago announced that we would be cutting budgets with great difficulty this year. That story generated many questions that I hope were addressed at least in part by the story last week. We were very grateful that the Forum followed up with as much energy and attention as it had used in the first report. While it would have been nice to see the more reassuring story on the front page, too, the truth is that it was never a front page story.

The Forum followed up with a complimentary editorial, which we also welcomed. The point of the editorial was that we had done a good job of dealing with a difficult situation, and the legislature should provide more funds to higher education as a significant method of reinvigorating the state.

The very same day that we announced the budget decisions, the city commission confirmed a decision by the development corporation to invest $150,000 in a new, profitable business that we are launching together inside the university. We have read much about city-university-private sector collaboration in Fargo, with the technology-research park development west of the FargoDome. When the city, development corporation, and university developed this investment plan, we were inventing a whole new strategy that can work for smaller communities and colleges.

VCSU has invested five years, three faculty members, and nearly $2 million in federal and university funding in a new program called technology education. This is the new business the city and development corporation are investing in. The program is the only one of its kind in the nation; there will be 9,000 vacancies in this field in the next several years; and overall there are about 40,000 people who need this program. Our program is built to deliver anywhere through distance technologies, so we could ramp up to meet the national demand. The business plan shows a stunning level of revenue potential in a few years. It will take heroic efforts for us to ramp up to that level, but we are committed to this project as a major priority.

The investors want to add good jobs (teachers in the program) and bring in revenues to the university and community. The university wants to increase enrollment and seek a third significant source of revenues to help offset losses of state funding and reduce the need to increase tuition at recent rates.

We have worked hard to balance next year’s budget, but each year it becomes more difficult. Wise decisions and partnerships at this time may help ease the difficulty in the future. Creativity and stamina are helpful qualities these days, too.