Kingsbury Column: Putting The Cart Before The Horse

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“I have paid North Dakota taxes all my life and my son has a right to flunk out of UND.”

That’s what a North Dakota citizen said to me when I was a member of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education and was trying to explain that UND was going to change its admission standards in order to see if by admitting only higher qualified students they could more accurately assure the student that they would meet graduation requirements within an acceptable time.

Now that person was in a position that he could afford to send his children to school and pay all costs. However, most students do not come from families who can do that. Instead, if both the parents and the students borrow money and for those who drop out after a year or two owe a great deal of money, money they now must repay. It is better to owe money on a car, or a house than on a student loan. Don’t even think about bankruptcy. Doesn’t apply to student loans-to the doctor that saved your life well too bad for him or her, but not so the financial firm that loaned you money for school. Pay up now.

According to the office of higher education at both UND and NDSU over 40 percent of each of their 2013 freshman classes would not have been admitted to either school based on the proposed standards. Forty percent. That is a lot of students and that is a lot of money. Not only students and money that UND and NDSU would lose but students and money that the other colleges would gain if we assume the rejected students would chose those schools.

How would Mayville and Valley City, and even Minot and Dickinson handle all those extra students just dropped on them. Where would they put them both in classrooms and in housing.

More important, are they assuming that those students who chose those big towns of Fargo and Grand Forks would go to anyone of those four? Maybe Minot and maybe by a stretch even Dickinson. More realistically in Fargo they would cross the river to Moorhead and finally take care of Moorhead State’s enrollment problem. So too the UND students. Head for Moorhead I mean. Maybe quite a few also to Bemidji.

This is North Dakota. There is an attitude of equality. Garrison Keillor says it as a joke, but we do operate under the idea that all our children are good looking and they are all above average in intelligence. Many talk about Harvard and NDSU in the same sentence. They really consider them alternatives.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some good students that come from North Dakota high schools and they sit right beside some who might have a problem being admitted to one of our two year colleges and they treat one another as equals. Some are admitted to a place like UND and go into a financial and academic assistance program and end up graduating with honors. It turns out they were not so much academically limited as they were poorly taught. How much is the problem less one of incoming freshmen not receiving adequate or good counseling rather than not being prepared.

It was that way two generations ago, and it is still that way. At least I think it is a serious enough possibility that it should be studied, and it is not.

Today those who have proposed this program are backing away to a degree by saying the proposal wasn’t meant to be set in stone. Changes will be made they say. At least it sounds as if they are listening

So, let those students enroll in UND or SU. Make sure they understand what that will cost them either out of their parent’s pockets, or into the future as they repay student loans. Those students actually make those academically superior programs available to the better students by the tuition they pay. If they don’t provide the money state appropriations will have to increase substantially. Done up front and with honesty it is a better deal than buying a used car, or thinking that Social Security is a good retirement fund.

Ralph Kingsbury

Ralph Kingsbury owns Kingsbury Economics. Specializing in statistical research his on line blog is free to readers. It is located at www.northernplainsstats.com. It contains statistics of North Dakota, and NW Minnesota. At the request of his readers it has a section on Grand Forks. It also reports on Montana, South Dakota, and all of Minnesota when appropriate to telling the story of the upper Great Plains both economically and culturally.

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