UND makes its case to North Dakota Legislature

University highlights how its academic and research programs benefit the state

UND President Andrew Armacost testified Monday in Bismarck before the North Dakota Legislature’s Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of our two-part coverage of Monday’s testimony at the North Dakota Legislature. Part 2 of our coverage will appear in Thursday’s edition of UND Today, as described below. 

****

UND has been a conscientious steward of state resources while contributing in many ways to the state and its residents, said President Andrew Armacost on Monday, appearing before the North Dakota Senate Appropriations Committee to make the University’s case.

“The state’s investment in higher education impacts every family, every town, every sector of the economy in the state of North Dakota,” Armacost said. “We hope today to share how UND does that. Whether it’s our great academic opportunities or internships or research efforts, we directly benefit the state in many ways.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks. He noted that the committee was addressing Senate Bill 2003, the funding legislation for North Dakota higher education, while also taking into account the funding recommendations of Gov. Doug Burgum and the Office of Management and Budget.

The day’s hearing began with Nick Hacker, Chair of the State Board of Higher Education; Mark Hagerott, Chancellor of the North Dakota University System; and Tammy Dolan, Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs and Chief Finance Officer. They provided highlights and an overview of the state’s higher education system.

During the UND portion of the hearing, also addressing the committee were UND Student Body President Matthew Ternus; Jed Shivers, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President for Finance & Operations; and Karla Mongeon-Stewart, Associate Vice President for Finance.

Debbie Storrs, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, helped answer legislators’ questions remotely. Dr. Joshua Wynne, Dean of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Vice President for Health Affairs, testified separately on the medical school’s plans and accomplishments.

As mentioned above, Thursday’s edition of UND Today will include stories on the NDUS testimony and Wynne’s SMHS testimony.

Andy Armacost

Armacost said from the time he stepped into the job as UND’s president last summer, he’s been aware of the importance North Dakotans place on effectively stewarding state funds. He noted that UND has found creative solutions – such as state matching fund programs, partnerships with business and other state institutions of higher education, online education and dealing with deferred maintenance – to keep the campus viable and modern.

As North Dakota begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Armacost stressed UND’s important role in assisting with the recovery. National trends show that higher education graduates have suffered lower unemployment rates and salary loss during the pandemic, he explained.

“We know that college degrees, bachelor’s degrees and so forth yield higher incomes for the citizens of North Dakota and citizens around the nation,” Armacost said. “And so these two factors really call into the forefront how we at UND prepare our students for careers and leadership.”

As the top provider of online education in an eight-state region, UND was and continues to be well positioned to provide quality education opportunities for students online, on campus or through a combination of the two, Armacost said.

“It’s also important to note that the role of the liberal arts and humanities isn’t just limited to creating good communicators and people who appreciate literature,” he said. “The very thoughts and habits of thought from those programs – like critical thinking skills and the ability to articulate – are something that can’t be overestimated. We have constant attention to what programs are needed to make sure that we’re offering the career fields the workforce demands.”

During his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Armacost noted that UND’s flexible approach to education helped the University improve graduation and retention rates.

Predicting student demographic changes in the post-COVID era will be difficult, but changes in the current student profile point to increases in part-time, graduate, transfer and older students. Armacost noted that UND has seen significant growth in graduate students, rising from 2,785 in fall 2018 to 3,304 in fall 2020. He emphasized that partnerships with business and educational groups inside and outside North Dakota are vital to the success of UND and the educational system.

“Our goal is not just to attract students to the campus, but to keep them here and make sure that we’re retaining them at levels consistent with what we’re seeing across the nation or better,” Armacost said. He noted the University’s 78 percent retention rate exceeds the national average of 75 percent.

In addition, over the past 10 years, Armacost said UND has seen significant improvements in graduation rates for undergraduate students.

“These are the result of hard work on our campus and the emphasis we put on retention,” he said. “We put programs in place that would offer better advising and better support to our students, to make sure that their investment is sustained and that they’d keep coming back.”

Armacost said these trends have been bolstered at UND by providing greater flexibility to students finishing degrees, pursuing new occupations, changing careers or enhancing work skills. The University also provides high-impact educational practice for students and developmental opportunities for faculty through its research and development programs.

UND is requesting state funding to renovate Merrifield and Twamley Halls and to repair the airport flight apron used by the aerospace school.

“This is the involvement of discovery and creative activity,” Armacost explained. “It involves the bedrocks of learning – whether it’s in the laboratory or out in the field. It applies to science and technology, but also to arts and education.

“For students, their involvement in research is what we consider a high-impact education practice – hands-on learning that gives them the critical thinking skills they truly need as they go out into the workforce.”

Citing future research opportunities, Armacost noted that UND has been visited by top federal officials with the newly created U.S. Space Force, the Space Development Agency and NASA. He thanked legislators for making UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) the State Energy Research Center, an action that the lawmakers took in 2019. State programs have also helped UND’s Center for Innovation attract entrepreneurs and launch start-up businesses.

Armacost pointed to two examples of UND research programs with statewide and national impacts. The Behavioral Health Bridge, in partnership with Sanford Health, deals with rural health and substance addiction issues. And UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is working with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, federal agencies and industry to integrate unmanned aircraft into the national airspace, he added.

“This picture should give you hope that through research, we can and do impact the broad state of North Dakota and, in fact, the nation,” Armacost said.

For the 2021-23 biennium, Armacost said UND is requesting state funding for the renovation of Merrifield Hall and Twamley Hall, as well as assistance in repairing the aerospace school’s flight apron at the Grand Forks Airport. The University also asked for continued support of the state Challenge Grant fund, which encourages philanthropy for scholarships and student assistance by providing matching grants. This fund has a $60 million impact on the NDUS, he said.

UND is also proposing use of Legacy Fund earnings for research to help diversify North Dakota’s economy and reduce the effects of boom/bust cycles.

Armacost also pushed for a needs-based budget for UND and higher education, noting that the governor’s proposed budget would result in a nearly $8.8 million net negative impact on the University’s budget. This would come after UND made significant cuts during the 2015-17 biennium and cuts to adjust for the COVID pandemic.

“We express our appreciation for past support from this committee and from the entire legislature,” Armacost concluded. “We appreciate all you do for the state of North Dakota, and thank you for listening to our requests.”