Let’s Close Down Some Of North Dakota’s Universities


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.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Gern Blanston

    Excellent point! But not in my back yard… what about my local economy? You can’t close OUR school! You’ll ruin our town!

  • Gern Blanston

    One option might be to push for SALE of some of these campuses. Maybe the local community wants to take them over; or a private entrepreneur.

  • Rick Olson

    This is a subject that keeps coming up and getting debated ad nauseam. It is not as simple as just defunding and closing any one or more of the colleges and universities. Each of North Dakota’s eleven institutions of higher education are enshrined in the North Dakota Constitution. That’s what largely makes higher education in North Dakota a constitutionally protected fourth branch of government. It would first take a constitutional amendment to remove one or more of the institutions of higher education from the constitution. All constitutional amendments eventually have to be ratified by the people of North Dakota in a statewide election. Whether they are proposed by the Legislature or through the initiated measure process. Then if the people say “yes” … it’s not a done deal. Far from it. At that point, the Legislature would need to consider legislation to actually do the deed and close the institution or institutions in question. If both houses were to pass such legislation and it gets signed by the governor — as in any piece of legislation, it can be put up to a vote of the people through a successful referendum petition drive. Or the issue could appear on the ballot as the result of a successful initiated measure petition drive. All the “not in my backyard” people would be screaming the loudest. Threaten to shut down Mayville State University for example, and all the people in and around Mayville would be beating their chests, trying to save their university from the chopping block. I don’t see any realistic scenario under which a successful closure of any one of the current institutions of higher education would wind up becoming a reality.

    • Lianne

      What happens if the student census drops to 10 or 15 students?

      • Rick Olson

        I’m not sure if there is any one right answer to your question or not. As far as I know, North Dakota has not encountered such a scenario before. I suppose the institution would be placed in an inactive status of sorts until the people decide the fate of said institution.

        • Lianne

          If jobs continue to be plentiful here in ND, I can see fewer and fewer heading to an 4 year institution to obtain a degree.
          Back in the day when travel was difficult and education was highly regarded here in the state, those institutions were set up around the state, but now, people drive 4 hours to party!

          • ec99

            You’re talking about ND high school graduates. Universities long ago quit worrying about them, knowing full well there were too few of them. Their strategy was to go outside the state. Their solution?: offer tuition lower than that of the home state. Thus students from CA, AZ, FL. HI, etc actually pay less to come here. That they don’t stick around after graduating doesn’t matter; universities aren’t educating students to work in ND, they’re looking for revenue.

          • Lianne

            Boy, that is so true. The institutions need to be reined in. I wonder how many of those out-a-staters will come for an education and leave for the big money in oil?

  • John_Wayne_American

    Step one: Turn DSU and WSU into desperately needed High School classroom space, the NDUS could lease the buildings and subsidise the college instructors, (A lot of them teach remedial HS instruction in the first place) They could also teach the Advance Placement classes so that the instructors retain their presumably higher pay.

    THis helps preserve those jobs and instructors, and relieves the School districts, (and the state that will pick up 80% of the tab) of the cost of building classrooms and hiring teachers.

    They could still run some post HS technical programs off those 2 campuses as extensions of NDSCS like they do in the old Kmart in Fargo. Those could be oilfield related training, diesel welding and healthcare. Anything past that, Go to Minot or BSC.

    Turn Bottineau and Maville over to the cities, Just Give it to the them, lock stock and Barrel, they could sell it or lease it to a Private school, or lease out the buildings for private biz and housing or use the buildings rather than build new city halls or Courthouses.

  • ec99

    It’s a complex issue. Higher ed in ND could use a book-length study, tracing it from its beginnings, when all the campuses were formed in order to give access to students of the state when travel was difficult, to the present, where few high school graduates have resulted in the need for huge recruitment from other states. It would include the diminution of education as a mission, replaced by the idea of economic impact. It would also explore the evolution of campuses as independent fiefdoms, run by presidents intoxicated by power, with a eunuch SBHE formed by political patronage. The role of ND media in its refusal to investigate or explore the more egregious examples could also be dwelt on.

  • NDConservative

    With critical housing needs out west in Dickinson, Williston and Minot maybe it’s great timing to sell these 3 campuses to private enterprises as their value for housing needs cannot be higher then at the present time.
    With Mayville State located within 45 miles of either UND or NDSU it really is not cost effective to keep that college open either.

    • Rick Olson

      Under the present scenario, there would be nothing to prevent the North Dakota University System from realigning Mayville State University with either UND or NDSU and make it a branch of the parent institution. As long as the campus physically remains in Mayville, then such a move would withstand constitutional muster.

      • John_Wayne_American

        Rick, So you are saying the schools be re-aligned, making them like Williston was 30 years ago UND-Williston, simply a branch of the bigger University?

        What if DSU, WSC, and Bottineau were realigned with NDSCS to provide Technical training and College prep. As well as leasing space to the local HS to provide Advance placement and extra classroom space.

        Mayville State becomes a branch of UND and Valley City becomes a Branch of NDSU

        Minot State and Bismarck could be consolidated into one school with 2 campuses both to be returned to 2 year JR Colleges that offer but a very few 4 year courses?

        Coupled with a comprehensive study on program redundancy you might be able to come up with a system that serves the taxpayer more efficiently.

        • Rick Olson

          It’s about as good a suggestion that anyone’s been able to come up with. While I certainly appreciate the semi-independence and individual identities of the 11 higher education institutions in the state; there might come a day that such an idea would need to get a serious look at.

        • Guest

          You are thinking too small. Some schools should be closed. ND can’t support 11 post-secondary campuses. Now, if the buildings can be reused for housing or high school space, great. But just changing the alignment and getting rid (in theory, but I bet it wouldn’t happen) of some administration really isn’t solving the problem.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Copy/pasted from my post back in Sept…

    ND graduates ~10,000 seniors per year, and the number that actually go to ND state colleges, universities, tech schools is growing smaller every year.

    Look at all the private schools now operating in ND as well as online colleges, and good old fashioned OJT in the western oilfields, construction sights and farm / ranches.

    Tell me again why the state needs a 11 institution system that must have what 25000 – 30,000 students? I dont think we need to expand much of anythib, consolidate and specialize yes! expand..NO!

    Valley City
    Devils Lake

    5 Native American community colleges
    Fort Totton
    New Town
    Fort Yates
    United tribes -Bismarck
    and across the border to the south Sisseton SD

    University of Jamestown
    University of Mary -Lincon ND
    University of Mary -Fargo
    Rassmuson Buisness college Fargo
    NDSCS Fargo

    a couple of Massage schools in Fargo and GF
    a welding school south of Fargo
    at lest 3 if not 4 beauty/stylist schools barber schools in Fargo. I would suppose Minot GF Bismarck would have a few too.

    then right across the river is;
    East Grand Forks Tech
    Moorhead Tech
    Detroit Lakes Tech
    Moorhead State University
    Concordia College
    Globe University Moorhead

    Students from south Central ND have a couple options in Aberdeen SD too.

    Presentation College
    Northern state College
    that’s what I can think of off the top of my head…

  • John_Wayne_American

    It makes absolutely no sense to me that DSU must bribe foreign students to attend its campus with tuition waivers, when the state has to pay thru the nose to keep instructors there and in Williston.

    It was mentioned the other day here, that at the time of statehood, when they split Dakota territory into North and South Dakota, one of the reasons for the split was the predicted population of 5 million people in each state. That coupled with the transportation issue make some sort of sense out of the the 11 college handout in the Constitution (gifts to the local communities) (Jamestown got the State Hospital rather than a college)

    • Gern Blanston

      It likely made sense to some administrator who was ‘graded’ on school population figures.

    • WOOF

      It makes absolute sense to bribe university officials to gain a student visa , a step to green card residency, then citizenship.
      Free education is the cherry on top.
      Has to be worth $50/100K to someone from China.
      Somebody made big money.

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        That’s assuming anyone was getting educated.

        The grades were as fake as the degrees.

  • borborygmi45

    Valley City and Mayville, Dickinson and Minot

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I could get on board with that.

      • reggy

        Keep the two most expensive 4-year schools and remove all 4-year education opportunities from the oil patch. Seems a bit unwise.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    While it makes fiscal sense to close campuses, it is a political impossibility. Worse, these campuses are enshrined in our state constitution. And, if anyone tries to close a campus, they will also face the whole “You’re anti-education” thing.

    I say this knowing I have my own biases. In education, money should not be the only consideration. I think there should be some geographic distribution of the colleges. Also, I think the state could turn some four-year schools into two-year schools. I do not like the Wyoming solution with a single public 4-year campus.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I think geography is less important today than it was. For one, distance education is getting bigger all the time. The need for distributed campuses (or even big, centrally-located campuses) is lessening. Also, travel isn’t nearly the headache it was back when these institutions were founded.

      But here’s the thing: We either close some of these institutions, or we accept bogus policies bribing out of state students to come here and fill them.

      • ec99

        ” bribing out of state students to come here and fill them.”
        And that will continue to be the status quo. It is those students who pour money into communities and work low pay service jobs. That is their purpose…not getting an education. Which is why legislators from affected towns would form a caucus to assure the survival of all eleven campuses.

      • John_Wayne_American

        Remember when going to Minot was a big deal, maybe for State basketball tourney or the State fair? Now a trip from western ND to Minot is as common as a trip to Menards for 2×6’s or Target for groceries.

        Same today with Grand Forks and Fargo, that was a huge trip back in the 70’s, now a caravan of cars travel weekly from Western ND travel to all the home games for the Sioux Hockey games or Bison Football games. same 400 miles, but the cars and roads are so much better, or they were ’till 85 filled up with trucks. But nobody travels 85 to get to Bismarck, easier to travel 26 miles out of the way though Minot. But I degress

        I just don’t see that many “Locals” attending their home town colleges, I’m sure its a majority, but a majority of a small number isn’t enough to keep a college local, just to satisfy a small group that stay at home and live with mom and dad rather than the dorms we spend millions to build and keep up. Look at the monster Dorm they built in WSC’s parking lot. To house who? Students that could have attended NDSCS if there was room in that schools programs.

      • Waski_the_Squirrel

        I don’t disagree with this. But I don’t think that colleges in this state should be limited to UND and NDSU. Personally, I think that Valley City and Mayville should be closed. I would have no problem turning either Minot or Dickinson into a 2-year school.

        But, again, the people of the state won’t support shutting down campuses. That’s a reality in North Dakota.