BISMARCK - North Dakota higher education leaders highlighted efforts to improve student graduation rates Wednesday, Aug. 23.

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott and University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy gave presentations to an interim legislative committee on the Bismarck State College campus, where both men said graduation rates need work.

Kennedy, a former congressman who took office in Grand Forks more than a year ago, said the university is focused on boosting its four-year graduation rate by 2022 from 28 percent to 34 percent, which would be 2 percentage points higher than the average of "comparison flagship universities," according to UND's strategic plan.

Kennedy pointed to the use of "Starfish," which he described as software to help faculty monitor student progress, as one way the university hopes to graduate more students on time. He said the university is also working to reduce barriers to graduation, including by decreasing the minimum number of credits needed to graduate to 120.

Universities aren't meant only to deliver an education, Kennedy said, "we're there to deliver graduates."

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"There has to be a change in mindset," Kennedy told the interim Higher Education Committee.

Hagerott said the state's two-year schools are doing better than the national rates, but "we're not happy with" the 25 percent four-year graduation rate at research universities, given the heavier financial burden that comes with staying in school longer.

"We want to do better," he said. "We need our kids to graduate at higher rates."

The presentations were part of a two-day meeting of the interim legislative committee, which also saw the President of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education give a presentation Tuesday. The meeting came as reduced tax revenues prompted legislators to cut state funding for higher education and across government during this year's session.

Hagerott and Kennedy touched on a variety of topics Wednesday, from deferred maintenance on campus facilities to the availability of online courses and the future of higher education.

"We're in a period of rapid change," Hagerott said.