Apr 20 2017

Why Partnerships Make a Difference in Higher Education Initiatives

Collaboration with K–12 leaders, lawmakers and industry adds momentum to institutional goals.

Education is not a stand-alone entity. Campuses share partnerships with nearby communities and workforces, and departments are doing more interdisciplinary work. Some of those partnerships exist between faculty and staff, others between students in groups, and still more through community-based programs where local experts work with educators to bring new experiences to students. Collaborative exercises and planning create new partnerships and strengthen long-standing relationships.

Here in North Dakota, we’ve been examining many of our educational partnerships in the North Dakota University System through our Envision 2030 initiative, which seeks common goals for higher education in the years leading up to 2030.

Along the way, we’re rediscovering and strengthening several of our partnerships, organized around “pillars” of inquiry.

Creating Future-Ready Partnerships

One of our most important efforts is with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI), the agency that guides K–12 forward. Insight from NDDPI and K–12 representatives is essential for our research and work in one of our student-focused Envision 2030 Pillars, “Tomorrow’s Student.” This type of collaboration is critical in helping us to better understand instruction techniques for the next generation of college students. It also gives us insight into the technology applications that best facilitate knowledge transfer to these students.

Partnerships like the one we share with NDDPI are essential for any higher education system, but collaboration doesn’t end there, of course. Our 11 public colleges and universities have worked shoulder to shoulder for years, striving to create the most efficient system possible. For example, we find that we can achieve significant efficiencies by sharing staff services and faculty resources. At the most fundamental level, our goal is to create as adaptive a system as possible. That means expanding use of content management systems, course delivery options, low-cost resource availability — actions we can take to maximize opportunities for student success.

As a system, we’ve completed several such projects, ranging from consolidating campus email systems under a single content management system to implementing predictive analytics reporting that strengthens our ability to intervene early for students in at-risk situations. These projects have highlighted not only the expertise of our technology personnel, but also the willingness of our campuses to adapt to new methods and tools on behalf of the entire system.

Exploring Cost Savings Via Tech

Another partnership that has helped us immensely has been our ongoing work with the North Dakota legislature. After the last regular session concluded, the Interim Legislative Higher Education Committee and State Board of Higher Education began holding regular joint meetings where legislators could see what our board members were seeing. This has fostered an open and collegial environment to help tackle complex problems in a collaborative manner.

As evidence of this collaborative spirit, the legislature made available about $100,000 for our colleges and universities to implement open educational resource offerings. The resulting savings for students have already topped the seven-figure mark. That tremendous return on investment highlights the benefits of what I hope will be more ongoing, successful partnerships with our lawmakers.

Collaborating Achieves Institutional Goals

A key aim of our State Board of Higher Education is to “maximize the strengths of a unified system.” I am convinced that more partnerships and collaboration are the ways to achieve this goal.

The colleges and universities of the North Dakota University System are on the path to do just that. I believe this is a path that can lead every system of higher education, regardless of size or number of institutions, to success.