Creating our own wave of opportunity

UND looks inward to muster resources to invest in future amid sea of uncertainty

Looking to the future, UND President Mark Kennedy says the University must be constantly investing and re-evaluating education to create a brighter future for students and the state. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

The University of North Dakota is swimming strong into the future, against a current of challenges, on its way toward a tidal wave of opportunity.

But in doing so, the emphasis is not merely on being the biggest fish in a shrinking sea, rather it’s on being the smartest, most innovative and most adaptable to change.

Mark Kennedy-new mug

President Kennedy

To survive, and even more so, to thrive, the entire University community must continue to strategically look inward to create its own resources to invest in the future, leaders say.

UND President Mark Kennedy has set the tone across campus with the “One UND” Strategic Plan, a future-looking roadmap that touches on improvements in every aspect of the University.

But that alone is not enough to sustain the momentum. And relying on the state to adequately fund the University to stay on a trajectory of smart growth is not going to cut it, either.

After years of major cuts to higher education budgets, Kennedy and others are advocating for stable funding from the state over the next biennium – in other words, a needs-based budget with merit pay increases.

“Even if the final result is a needs-based budget, it will not cover non-payroll inflationary increases, much less provide a pool to invest in new priorities,” said Jed Shivers, UND vice president for finance & operations.

Kennedy added, “For UND to thrive, we must be future focused, constantly investing and re-evaluating what we do to create a brighter future for our students and the state.”

Adapting, innovating and overcoming

And that’s exactly what’s happening across campus: a focus on strategic investments in and evaluations of student success, research and campus renewal.

Over the past several issues, UND Today has been highlighting these successes and plans for the future.

We’ve delved into new investments for core advisors on campus who are bolstering the work of academic advisors in each of UND’s Colleges and Schools to help ensure students success. We’ve detailed how new barrier-busting moves and best practices are allowing students get their degrees faster and driving up UND’s 4- and 6-year graduation rates to record levels. And just last week, we brought you news from the Chief Information Officer about technological upgrades to increase cyber safety, strengthen research analytical firepower, and improve student experiences across campus.

UND’s committed alumni also have received much-deserved attention in UND Today for their generous giving to support student scholarships and faculty endowments through the North Dakota Challenge Fund. The Fund allows donors to amplify their gifts with state matches. UND has matched privately all of its $17-million share of Challenge Fund grants (in the past), garnering $34 million in total gifts and other contributions supporting students and faculty.

We’ve also written extensively about how UND is using innovative private-public partnerships and other novel ways to repair and upgrade aging facilities, and in some cases, construct new buildings to make the campus core more appealing to prospective students, without additional costs to UND. Replacement and relocation of the campus steam plant is a prime example of thinking outside the box to address challenges.

A major University investment to support research was announced on Dec. 13, 2018, when UND officially committed $10 million of its own money over five years to hire six computational scientists with expertise in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and cyber technologies. The new resources are intended to enhance research capabilities across campus and to expose UND students to the skills they’ll need in the jobs of the future.

These internal research investments would be greatly enhanced by another proposal that we’ve covered in UND Today, and that’s making its way through the Legislature. This proposal would boost research funding from the Legislature for the state’s two research universities to nurture new discoveries and commercialization to help diversify the state’s economy.

What’s ahead?

Over the next few issues, UND Today has more articles planned on what UND is doing to innovate for the future. Coming soon, you will see more stories on technological enhancements and tools to further improve the experience of current students as well as those looking to enroll at UND. Also, we’ll dive into the need for UND academic programs to differentiate themselves based on quality rather than price-point to avoid an unfortunate “race to the bottom.”

Meeting demands

Tom DiLorenzo

Tom DiLorenzo

The goal is to position UND to be more adaptive to changing student demands and needs of the state and industry, all while remaining steadfastly committed to UND’s strong liberal arts foundation.

“It makes good sense to constantly and critically evaluate how automation is transforming the workplace and how our programs prepare our students with the specific skills and broader critical-thinking capabilities to succeed in those rapidly changing environments,” said Tom DiLorenzo, vice president for academic affairs and provost. “This helps the University ensure that our offerings are what our students want and need, and gives us the best sense of where we should be investing.”