A new academic plan for Northwest Technical College will transform how the college fulfills its mission of highly valuable career education and strengthen its partnership with Bemidji State University, NTC-BSU President Richard Hanson said Monday.
The Master Academic Plan, now being implemented, will offer students flexible programs that prepare them for good-paying jobs in high-demand fields, Hanson said. Changes in curriculum will begin next fall, and six strategic goals will be achieved over the next three years.
The academic plan stresses greater collaboration with Bemidji-area business and industry, school districts, government agencies, nonprofits and other colleges to boost student success and promote a thriving regional economy. All those stakeholders were consulted during the plan’s development.
• Download the NTC Master Academic Plan (223k PDF)
While maintaining core academic areas of health care, business, building trades, automotive and young child education, a more streamlined approach will let students acquire sequential or “stackable” credentials as they progress from foundational learning to more in-depth study.
“This Master Academic Plan is tremendously challenging,” Hanson said. “But I’ve been in higher education a long time, and this is one of the best plans I’ve ever seen. We’re determined to make the college strongly relevant to the needs and opportunities of the world we’re in right now.”
Development of the academic plan by a group of administrators, faculty and staff – and its approval last month by employee bargaining units – completes another chapter in a so-called “reinvention” of NTC that Hanson launched last December.
Faced with enrollment challenges and a gloomy financial outlook, he organized an NTC task force to undertake an exhaustive assessment of how the college serves students and Bemidji-area communities. Their report, issued in May, inspired a change in college leadership and laid the groundwork for the new academic plan.
The plan’s six “transformative goals” are:
1. Enhance assessment of current academic programming assure that courses, programs and learning opportunities align with changing student, community and employer needs.
2. Create and implement a strategic enrollment management plan to help increase enrollment and improve retention of students.
3. Promote a culture of innovation that supports new program development and high-quality teaching.
4. Develop new online programming and expand online student support services in collaboration with Distance Minnesota.
5. Increase community outreach and engagement.
6. Become recognized as a premiere developmental education institution within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU).
Increased academic partnership with BSU
The academic plan calls for BSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Martin Tadlock and the university’s four academic deans to work directly with college faculty to shape program structure and course requirements, something that is already underway.
Students will be able to rapidly gain marketable credentials in a certificate or diploma program and then decide whether to complete a two-year degree at NTC or possibly pursue a bachelor’s degree at BSU.
New core course requirements will apply to multiple programs within an academic area or cluster. Previously, even related programs have sometimes had different core courses, requiring students to backtrack if they changed plans.
“You had to pick a lane, so to speak,” Griggs said, “and if a student decided that a particular program was not the right one, it was almost like starting over.”
The academic plan also calls for establishment next month of college credit courses in technical subjects at Bemidji High School, something that has been limited to credits at BSU, he said.
Along with the flexibility of stackable academic credentials, allowing students to stop and restart more easily as they choose, the new academic plan calls for more courses to be available in the evening, on weekends and during the summer.
Emphasis on workforce training
Another aspect of the college’s increasing flexibility involves customized training – preparation of current or prospective workers to meet employer needs, separate from regular course offerings. The college intends to become a major center for such training, ranging from manufacturing to construction to health care. The training will serve existing companies and may also help attract new employers to the Bemidji region.
Anticipated revenue from such training is one of the ways the college plans to close a budget shortfall estimated at $1 million for fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1. Also, efforts will intensify to seek grants from the federal government and other sources.
The biggest increase in college revenue will come from higher enrollment. The immediate goal is to reverse a 9.6 percent decline of 115 online and on-campus students over the past year, when NTC saw its attendance fall along with many other colleges and universities across Minnesota.
While the academic plan itself will drive that projected turnaround, through greater flexibility and more streamlined programs, the college also plans to significantly raise its profile throughout the region and also refresh its identity with a new name more closely tied to its Bemidji location. The name change is still pending at this time.
The name Northwest Technical College is a vestige of a time when the Bemidji campus was part of a five-campus consortium, which was disassembled in 2003. NTC was the only college to keep the name.
Additional students will also be drawn through stronger relationships between college faculty and technical instructors at area high schools and tribal colleges, helping ensure that their students understand how a technical education can prepare them for successful careers in north-central Minnesota and beyond.
At the same time, the college will aggressively market itself to adult learners who want to enhance their current careers or make a fresh start in a new career. Such students may also be able to earn credit for knowledge and skills they’ve already acquired on the job.
‘An institution that can thrive’
Supporting those recruitment efforts will be a “one-stop” approach to academic advising, financial aid and registration. Staff in the college’s administrative office will receive cross training that prepares them to respond to students’ most common needs and questions.
Those same staff will work with faculty and student leaders to create an inviting and engaging atmosphere for on-campus students, encouraging them to remain enrolled and increasing the approximately 50 percent share of courses now taken at the college rather than online.
To reduce expenses, the total non-faculty staff at the college was reduced in November from 19 to 11 full-time positions through a combination of early retirements, employee transfers to open positions at BSU, and a layoff. The college and university will share staff in student records, academic technology, the library and disability services.
On the faculty side, a number of positions will be eliminated, depending on the outcome of final program review. Both the college’s forestry technology program and residential carpentry programs have been suspended because of low enrollment, but all current students will be able complete their study.
Finally, a budgeted position for a college administrator will go unfilled next year as Griggs continues to serve in an interim role.
Long-term financial stability is crucial in order for the college so it can continue to provide educational services not available anywhere else in the Bemidji region, Hanson said.
“We are creating an institution that can thrive in the future, but it has to be different from what it has been in the past,” he said. “It will be more relevant to the regional economy, more engaged with community partners, and more in step with the changing lives and expectations of its students.”
• Scott Faust, director of communications and marketing; (218) 755-2041, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.