Northwest Technical College seeks approval for proposed institutional changes

Northwest Technical College will seek approval from its accrediting agency for a stronger academic partnership with Bemidji State University, part of an ongoing transformation to secure the college’s future and better serve students and employers.

The application for a “change of control” from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools will be submitted Friday, Aug. 1, requesting permission to expand the current administrative ties between the two schools into the areas of curricular planning and coordination.

The agency’s review of the proposal, expected to conclude by October, is another milestone in a process of transforming the college that began more than a year ago and will continue through the coming year and beyond.

• Download the NTC Change of Control application (373k PDF)

A broad array of changes outlined in the Higher Learning Commission request establish the foundation for a strategic “reinvention” of NTC that President Richard Hanson proposed in December when he convened a joint BSU-NTC task force to explore a new and sustainable future for the college.

In developing the strategy, Hanson drew on research, findings and recommendations from the 11-member task force of faculty, staff and administrators, which delivered their report to him in May.

He said his vision is nothing short of establishing NTC as the leading workforce-preparedness center for northwest Minnesota, with programs that continuously evolve to meet the changing needs of the region’s economy. The college is also slated to get a new name, yet to be determined, beginning next summer.

“There is nothing incremental about this,” Hanson said. “We are fundamentally changing the role of the college in the region and its relationship with Bemidji State. I look forward to lots of discussion at NTC and BSU this year as we work through the details on the big picture outlined in this application.”

A new organizational structure, effective immediately, includes a continued role for Robert Griggs as interim dean of NTC, the college’s on-site administrator, combined with new dual responsibilities for Dr. Martin Tadlock, BSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. Faculty, administrators and community members will be engaged early this fall to develop a new academic plan for NTC that more closely aligns with BSU than in the past.

Previously, the alignment between BSU and NTC, which began in 2008, had been limited to administrative functions such as the president and the departments of finance, communications and marketing, facilities and admissions.

The new structure and overall plan have been approved by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.

A primary objective of reorganized academic programs at NTC will be the reversal of a 20 percent enrollment decline at the college over the past four years.

Anticipated academic programs will be organized into four clusters: technical education, non-credit, nursing and allied health and education. Those will encompass the disciplines now being taught at NTC but be revamped with streamlined course requirements, more flexible scheduling, accelerated and competency-based learning and opportunities to earn credit for prior learning – all designed to help students gain credentials and enter the workforce.

All programs will focus on preparing graduates for highly skilled fields with strong job demand. Students will have the opportunity to earn an increased variety of so-called “stackable” credentials, up to and including bachelor’s degrees from Bemidji State.

“We want to keep our talent local,” said Griggs, whom Hanson named as the NTC dean in May. He continues to hold the position of vice president of innovation and extended learning for both BSU and NTC.

“That’s the advantage of working more collaboratively with BSU and working directly with employers in the region. Students have the opportunity to stay here.”

Expanded offerings are being explored in such fields as hospitality management, retail management, forestry resource management and a variety of new health-related jobs such as diagnostic technologies, cardiac support and medical assisting.

In hospitality management, for example, Minneapolis-based Carlson Companies has committed $200,000 per year for the next three years to build a joint degree program at Bemidji State and NTC.

The college will continue to serve traditional-age high school graduates but place increased emphasis on attracting adult learners who want to advance or change their careers, as well as assisting employers who seek customized training for their workers in advanced manufacturing and other fields.

For example, BSU and NTC are partners with the Minnesota Innovation Institute, or MI2, which is seeking to establish an entrepreneurship center in the Mayflower Building in downtown Bemidji.

Plans call for students at the college to complete their general education requirements, such as English and mathematics, in joint courses at Bemidji State, while the college provides remedial classes for students who aren’t yet ready for college- or university-level courses.

Increased use of advanced communications technology will provide greater educational access for off-campus learners, including students at the region’s tribal colleges. NTC is part of a consortium of higher education institutions, including the tribal colleges, which in February won a $500,000 federal grant to expand distance learning in rural Minnesota.

Restored tuition revenue, combined with cost savings from administrative efficiencies between the university and the college, are intended to erase an operating deficit at NTC that Hanson said could threaten the college’s survival if not immediately addressed. One-time use of financial reserves will be needed this fiscal year to help close a deficit estimated at $1.5 million.

A permanent reduction in six to 10 staff positions at NTC is anticipated by October as some back-office roles are absorbed into BSU departments. Although no faculty layoffs are immediately planned, college faculty positions may be reduced for the 2015-16 school year.

“This kind of change is never easy, and we regret the impact on individual employees,” Hanson said. “But I am confident the steps we are taking will yield great and lasting rewards for the college, for Bemidji State and for our entire region. The benefits will be very personal, for students and their families, and also global in their scope.”

Scott Faust, director of communications and marketing; (218) 755-2041

Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
• NTC Change of Control application (373k PDF)

Northwest Technical College, located in northern Minnesota’s lake district, is an open, inviting technological learning organization. For more than 40 years, the college has valued life-long learning and the worth and dignity of all people. Its open-enrollment policy, affordable tuition and high-quality education have attracted a diverse group of learners; today, the College serves more than 1,200 learners. The college offers more than 40 degree programs in areas such as business, health, human and protective services and environmental and industrial technology career programs. Classes are offered on the Bemidji campus, online, or as a combination of both. NTC is a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
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