Kingsbury Column: Putting The Cart Before The Horse


“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 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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  • Lianne

    This is satire, right?

  • Captjohn

    The issues surrounding higher Ed are numerous and difficult to resolve. How much should the taxpayers subsidize a college students education when 40% of NDSU and UND’s incoming students won’t get a degree. Should we be subsidizing the tuition of Minnesota students when many of the Minnesota institutions are being under utilized

    • ec99

      ND has reciprocity agreements with MN, MT, and Manitoba. Can’t very well back away from them.

  • borborygmi45

    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…….The gov’t make back the loans but they come after you to make sure you pay the gov’t if not the lending institution. I guess I can’t fathom the disconnect if they go in thinking this isn’t going to cost themselves or there parents if they are backing the loan. Look long and hard at what you are going into as a field of study, make some sort of educated guess that this is going to pay off for you. There is a disservice by counselors directing students into some sort of degree that will not pay off unless they also go on to get their masters. The student and the parent have to take the personal responsibility to research the possible career path they want the student on. You can be drunk and stupid out of college as well as in.

  • kevindf

    “When in doubt go to Stout, if not there then Eau Claire.”

    • borborygmi45

      Have a niece going to Stout.

      • ec99

        Many of those schools were state colleges until they got folded into the U of W system, which doesn’t mean they became better.

        • borborygmi45

          Didn’t know this was a discussion of better or not. Her mother graduated from there.

  • ec99

    Once universities begin admitting unqualified students they run the risk of doing everything they can to keep and graduate them, despite the fact their academic integrity goes down the toilet. At some schools, faculty have to supply a written justification for giving a D or F. At others, there are no longer Ds or Fs as options, C is the lowest grade. The provost of Xavier of Ohio unilaterally declared that 50% of the final grade had to be based on “effort.” And then you just have rampant grade inflation in general. The average gpa at Harvard is an A-. But as I’ve said before, education long ago ceased to be a mission at universities; students are there to pick up part of the tab.

    • Tim Heise

      100% agree

  • NoDak for Life

    GPAs, ACT scores, and class rank are somewhat of an indicator of who will succeed in college but also not very accurate. There are just too many exceptions of successful people coming from the bottom half of the class to say these admission standards are predictive. Why deny a student his shot at success at the school of his choice?

    Often HS students come from disruptive, poor homes or are late bloomers, lazy or pampered. They often kick it up a notch in college, learn their work ethic, and find their ambition. Students are coming to college more immature than ever, and that is the fault of parents and high schools. College is a time of slowly growing up.

    For many it takes more than 4 years to graduate, but also most students work, many 30 hours per week or more while being a full time student. They literally do not have time for more than 12-15 hours per semester, thus it will take them 5 years…or more if they do internships and co-ops to get relevant work experience. Because of high student debt we would like them to finish in 4 years, but many cannot for various reasons from changing majors, work schedules, classes not being available, immaturity, etc. etc. We need to relax on the 4 year rule. That works well for private schools where students do not have to work, but public universities.

    For the most part the universities are poor at helping students graduate on time. They do not intervene with students on a timely basis when they are struggling or failing, and like to punish students rather than encourage and help. Great students do not come from grand punishment. Too many tend to be bad bureaucrats rather than inspired educators. If universities were given 40% of their state payments after a student graduates, they would start having their priorities straight. Now any student is just an ATM machine to collect fees, tuition, room & board, parking tickets and dozens of other charges…as well as higher state payments for more enrollment. University bureaucrats have no idea how to prioritize and focus on good education, but they sure spend more and more on high priced overhead and administration which accounts for majority of the extra student debt. All those administrators do not improve the quality of the education one iota.

    Surprisingly these”C” students are also the most successful in their careers. They are self learners, seeking the info they want and not worrying too much about the rest. An old joke is too true: A students go on to be teachers, B students go on to be management, and C students come back an endow the university. The graduation is more important than the GPA.

    You are right that we need to talk more about student debt with students. They need to understand how taking debt without getting a degree is disastrous, and that they should assume no more debt than they have to.

    • ec99

      I agree with much of what you say, except that graduating “on time” is now a myth. There is no more “on time,” as in a four-year degree.

    • JoeMN

      For the most part the universities are poor at helping students graduate
      on time. They do not intervene with students on a timely basis when
      they are struggling or failing, and like to punish students rather than
      encourage and help.
      Often times those who are falling behind are doing so because of poor work study habits, or generally a taste for the party life.
      Holding back good students on their behalf seems rather counterproductive, and basically a bad business decision for state run universities.

      They may end up loosing better students to private institutions who are now promising degrees in LESS time.
      Those students attending private school understand the stakes (because it costs so much more)
      I agree with you completely on top heavy administrations.
      Meanwhile they pack 2-300 + students into a lecture hall.

      • borborygmi45

        Meanwhile they pack 2-300 + students into a lecture hall. While being taught by a TA. Usually the 100 level classes.

        • JoeMN


          They want enrollment and tuition payments from these unprepared students, yet are unwilling to devote resources toward them.

      • ec99

        Just about every university administration is bloated. A while back, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about how over the last decade, administration had increased 64% at Purdue, while faculty was up 6%. At UND just this year, they’ve hired VPs of Diversity, Strategy, and Comercialization, while replacing faculty with adjuncts, one-year positions, and TAs.

  • ec99

    Mr. Kingsbury,
    I’d be a bit more wary of admitting membership on the SBHE; a group of the most hopeless and hapless people ND has ever seen. Over the decades they have:

    Hired Isaak and Goetz as chancellors, when neither had the qualifications
    Fired Potts and Shirvani
    Allowed Valley City, Mayville, and Dickinson to call themselves universities
    Approved duplicative and inferior programs at smaller schools
    Caved in to Ralph E’s blackmail
    Reversed course and caved to the NCAA
    Cultivated a system whereby presidents became emperors
    Abrogated their responsibilty in running higher ed

    Just to name a few missteps.

  • R David Adams

    Its time we start treating higher education as the business it is, put down your money and pay your dues and that’s that. If a student cant or wont learn anything is really not the issue, if he pays, and passes he gets a diploma, if he pays and does not pass, he cant get the diploma. The whole problem sorts itself out if we let free enterprise take over. If on the other hand if the students get Government Grants, scholarships and sports money, that changes the dynamics, but still if you can pay or get a loan, you should get to go no matter how good or bad a student you are. College is a service provided by a business, and if you can afford to pay, you should go, anything else is just mucking up the works!

    • ec99

      Public higher ed has already adopted a pseudo business model, with disastrous results. Administrators know nothing about business practices; they don’t have to make a profit, they simply go back to government and students for more money. They wouldn’t last a week in the private sector. You can’t commoditize education or you run the risk of eliminating important, but lower enrolled disciplines, because they don’t produce a return (this is already going on). Students are not customers. No business would keep in place athletic programs which have produced oceans of red ink for decades.

      • R David Adams

        You hit the naiul on the head as I was saying. If it were treated like a business, which it really really is, this would not happen. Those programs that cannpt carry their own weight would be removed, larger universities would handle those as there would be enough students to use them to get s return.. In this day and age they could be taught over the internet. Education is very easy to commoditize as that is what it is, if you dont have a high enough degree right now you cant do certainb things, its been that way for decades. The ulimate end game of this would be reduced costs, higher profits and that is the point of education itself! Why we use a socialist model for producing those who would run or work in a Capitalist system is beyond words…