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Forum editorial: Higher ed must keep eye on goal

North Dakotans who understand the broad purposes and unlimited potential of higher education will applaud expansion of North Dakota State University's graduate degree programs.

North Dakotans who understand the broad purposes and unlimited potential of higher education will applaud expansion of North Dakota State University's graduate degree programs.

The state Board of Higher Education gave initial approval last week to four doctorates in education disciplines, two of which must be done in collaboration with similar programs at the University of North Dakota. NDSU made a case for the programs, based on analyses of the market. Indeed, demand for doctoral degrees in education proved to be stronger than NDSU anticipated.

Board endorsement of the programs did not come without lengthy and heated debate. At least one board member trotted the tired argument about competing degree programs. Ralph Kingsbury of Grafton said two of the proposed doctorates at NDSU would be "expensive, unnecessary duplication." He apparently was unaware of NDSU's findings that the demand for the degrees not only is coming from the regional education community, but also from research park scientists who also want to teach on campus and need advanced education degrees to do so.

Kingsbury also objected to comments by NDSU vice president and provost Craig Schnell, who suggested in a published report that a flawed consultant's report on graduate programs, which had been commissioned by the University System (over NDSU's objection), was being used by UND and the system to undermine NDSU's doctoral progams.

Schnell could have chosen his words more carefully, but the substance of his comments was valid. The report was unprofessional and indeed did end up all over the state before it had been reviewed by NDSU and Valley City State University, the two schools criticized in the document. It is not unreasonable to wonder how that happened -- to ask how such a shoddy report was allowed to become the basis for objections to expansion of NDSU's doctoral programs.

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The good news is that the majority of the higher ed board seems to embrace an expansive vision for the two research universities. The apparent fear of competition at UND makes no sense in light of that school's brilliant record of attracting research dollars and world-class faculty. NDSU has done much the same thing. There is room -- indeed need -- for both schools to continue building their research capability and collaborating to make a Red River research corridor a reality.

Education doctorates at both schools -- especially programs like NDSU's that are funded from private sources -- should not be made into hurdles on the path to the larger goal.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board

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