Reporter Brian Horwath has an article today about the grim aftermath of the diploma mill scandal at Dickinson State University. The institution is being forced to close down several floors of residence halls due to a shop drop in occupation, down more than half from five years ago.
As I pointed out back in October, enrollment at DSU has dropped 42% since a state audit revealed a campus-wide plot to inflate enrollment with foreign students who got phony grades and phony diplomas.
“We have a bit of a public relations challenge in front of us, both internally and externally,” David Black, an east-coast consultant hired by the university to address enrollment problems, told Horwath. “It takes a very deliberate effort to build back an image and to enhance a reputation.”
No doubt, though I’d point out that keeping personnel complicit in the scandal in leadership positions at the university isn’t helping rebuild any credibility.
But we should be honest about what drove DSU to such desperate, and illegal (though nobody has ever been charged for the fraud), lengths to pump up enrollment: A desperate effort to justify the massive size of North Dakota’s 11-campus university system.
Declining enrollment isn’t just a Dickinson State problem. The University of North Dakota saw a drop in enrollment this year, and North Dakota State University just hit the lowest percentage of in-state students they’ve seen in a decade, and perhaps ever.
In years past the North Dakota University System has packed campuses by giving away tuition. But in recent years as the number of students receiving waivers has declined…
…along with a decline in the dollar amount of tuition waived…
…enrollment across the university system has declined:
Until about 2009, the number of North Dakota high school students graduating had been in a decades-long decline. While North Dakota’s booming economy is turning that trend around, that won’t necessarily translate into more in-state demand for campus space, especially as higher education trends towards distance education.
North Dakota simply doesn’t have enough in-state demand for higher education to justify an eleven-campus university system, and the state’s taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to subsidize out-of-state students to fill those campuses be it through the fraudulent “diploma mill” efforts at DSU or the legal but less-than-savory efforts like tuition waivers.
Suggesting that some of North Dakota’s campuses be closed is hardly a new topic of debate. The legislature has tackled it in the past, and the issue has been on the ballot before voters. But never before have the problems in higher education been more acute.
The need for downsizing has never been more clear.