BISMARCK-A divided State Board of Higher Education gave the go-ahead to the North Dakota State College of Science to seek private financial support for a proposed career workforce academy in Cass County.

The board voted 5 to 3 to allow John Richman, president of NDSCS, and other backers of the proposed center to contact businesses to seek donations.

The vote stopped short of approving the project aimed at training more workers, but allows Richman to gauge financial support for the initiative, interest in various two-year technical programs, and allows him to come back with a business plan, assuming results are encouraging.

All members expressed support for the project-which has letters of support from Gov. Doug Burgum and legislative leaders, as well as strong business support-but expressed reservations about whether it complied with legislative building directives.

"I am fully supportive of the project," said board member Kathleen Neset. However, she added, "I am not prepared to vote on it yet."

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Neset was one of three members who voted against allowing fundraising to proceed. She was joined by members Mike Ness and Nick Hacker. Members Don Morton, Kari Reichert, Kevin Melicher, Greg Stemen and student member Nick Evans voted in favor.

The career workforce academy would be a collaboration involving at least five public high schools in and around Fargo-Moorhead, NDSCS and M-State in Moorhead. It would link high school and two-year training programs. Richman said the initiative will strive to avoid duplication.

"We need to help the workforce issues," Richman said, noting North Dakota has 16,000 job openings, 6,000 of them in Cass County. "This is crucial."

Bismarck has a similar program, the Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy, which has an enrollment of more than 1,300 students.