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Robert Griggs, the interim dean of Northwest Techncal College, perpares to take on the challenge of restructuring for the future. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

HIGHER EDUCATION: A look to the future for NTC; committee forwards recommendations to BSU president

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BEMIDJI -- Recommendations for changes at Northwest Technical College are a starting point for a longer-term examination into how best to reinvent the college.

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"The overall objective is to make sure that the resources of the college ... is put to the best possible use that they can be ... for the good of the students in the Bemidji region as well as the businesses and industries looking to hire well-prepared, talented, qualified people," said Scott Faust, director of communications and marketing for BSU.

The recommendations, formulated after six months of research and analysis by an 11-member committee, were presented to Richard Hanson, president of NTC and BSU, earlier this month. He now is consulting with faculty and staff groups and is meeting with the chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system before he decides how to move forward. That work is expected to be done by August.

"This was a massive undertaking," Faust said. "There was a tremendous amount of information ... and extensive conversations (that went into the process)."

In one of the most notable sections of the report, two options were presented for consideration of the future relationship between BSU and NTC.

One option would bring NTC under BSU's umbrella as the university's fourth college, in effect eliminating any boundaries between the two higher education institutions. The college would give up its accreditation and become BSU's technical and trade college. NTC's master plan would then focus on future plans for its technical and trade programs that would remain.

The second option offers a pilot program through which NTC is completely reinvented, offering "sweeping series of changes, including a dramatic overhaul of the college's organizational structure, including a new model of leadership, a revised staffing model and re-imagined student support services; modernizing NTC's core academic philosophies to emphasize credit for prior learning, extensive implement competency-based education, and focus on time to degree for NTC students;an aggressive pursuit of a significantly expanded and increasingly capable customized training and continuing education operation; and an aggressive initiative to provide foundational education."

That option -- in essence putting into effect the report's recommendations -- would have 2014-15 serving as a transition year with full implementation expected throughout 2015-16 and 2018-17.

By the time the program would conclude in 2017, if the college was not financially stable, it would then be absorbed as a fourth college of BSU.

""What we're seeing here is a stepping back ... being very deliberate in moving forward with a plan that provides the highest good for (NTC) and how that fits with Bemidji State," Faust said. "You can see a thread of considering where Bemidji State fits into all of this ... throughout the report."

Hanson was unavailable for comment. In a previous press release, he commended the task force and touted its report as "strongly coherent, data-based (and) data-driven -- just an excellent piece of work."

Reinvention

Under the reinvention plan, one of the recommendations was for a new structure at NTC, through which there would be a singular leader making day-to-day decisions for the college.

Last week, NTC announced that Robert Griggs, previously the vice president for innovation and extended learning at NTC and BSU, was named interim dean of the technical college, a position that had no set timetable.

In an interview with the Pioneer last week, Griggs, one of the members of the reimagination task force, said he believed the hope of having a singular leader at NTC was a reference to the existing system that has several administrators serving dual roles for the institutions.

A "singular leader" -- which he acknowledged could be the dean position -- would neither diminish those other administrators' jobs nor those of Hanson.

"It's having the opportunity to have someone here (at NTC) who could work very closely with those individuals but also have the ability to provide input into the decision-making on a day-to-day basis," Griggs said.

The recommendations also call for a creation of a master academic plan, a recruitment and retention plan, and the creation of a shared grant-writing office for NTC and BSU.

Academics

The report suggests the NTC community undertake a comprehensive review of its academic offerings, labeling each as something that should be retained as existing or expanded, retained with significant changes, or as suggested for closure.

It also notes that there are programs that the task force itself recommends for expansion and retooling, including sustainable energy -- to move away from wind-powered and focus on solar energy -- and allied health, to expand that programming through a close partnership with Sanford Health.

Recommendations also include that the college move away from the semester model and adopt a year-round approach, offering eight-week blocks of courses.

Additionally, the report suggests that the college seek additional partnerships with regional institutions, such as tribal colleges and K-12 schools.

"This could go in a lot of different directions," Faust said. "But there is no reason for all these higher educational institutions to be operating on their own when they could be partnering and creating greater value to the communities."

Further, the report recommends that NTC cluster its academic programs around core curriculum rather than offer separate, standalone programs. It also suggests that the college's business program be moved to such a model immediately as a pilot program for 2014-15, offering a general business degree with four potential emphasis areas.

Training and continuing education

The task force envisions a revitalized custom-training program that would partner with industries and area colleges through collaboration -- and a possible merger with -- with the Minnesota Innovation Institute.

Further, it recommends that NTC/BSU and the Minnesota Innovation Institute explore the development of customized training for allied health, and also that the college partner with Carlson Companies for a hospitality management training program.

The report suggests the college work with tribal colleges to develop a new customized training and continuing education consortium and also recommends that Optivation courses be relocated from the BSU campus to NTC's and be rebranded under a new name.

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