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NTC wants to CoNnecT College wants to expand partnerships with schools, employers

Northwest Technical College-Bemidji registered nursing student Kayla Kampfer orders next semsters books online on Friday afternoon. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — Ben Stowe is often asked, “Why Bemidji?”

As owner of NLFX Professional, a local technology and communications company that has managed projects on four continents and consistently juggles assignments throughout the country, Stowe’s logistics are more complicated and his travel costs are higher in order to keep his company headquartered in his hometown.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the end of the world to (manage those difficulties) in exchange for the benefits,” Stowe said. “You have the university (BSU) and college (NTC) both right here. That’s really a phenomenal benefit as an employer.”

And comments like those are what leaders at Northwest Technical College are hoping to here as the college begins an initiative to conduct an in-depth examination of all NTC operations. Dubbed the “Reinvention Task Force,” a group of faculty, staff, administrators and students will meet this winter to make specific recommendations by spring on the mission of the college and its course offerings.

“Truly, it will be an organic process that will be very creative,” said Scott Faust, director of communication and marketing for BSU and NTC. “I think everyone is eager to see what direction that task force takes.”

The task force was announced last week by Richard Hanson, president of BSU and NTC, as he awaits the recommendations from the task force, expected by April, before setting NTC’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

“Our expectations for transformation are so high that we are calling it a ‘reinvention’ of the college,” Hanson wrote in an op-ed published in last Sunday’s Pioneer. “We intend to make strategic and substantial improvements in both our academic programs and community partnerships in order to much better meet the needs of our constituents and much better connect NTC to the region.”

Working together

The initiative ties in with “Chart the Future” strategies adopted by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, of which both NTC and BSU are members. The program aims to increase collaboration among institutions to improve access, increase affordability and better serve students, according to officials.

Already, BSU and NTC are integrated. Formally, the college aligned with the university in 2004, and in 2005, they shared their first president as Jon Quistgaard oversaw both institutions.

Now, they share administration, NTC students can and do live in BSU dorms, and MnSCU treats the two together as a single financial unit.

“The BSU-NTC alignment is going to inevitably be something that the task force looks at,” Faust said.

Prompting the examination is declining enrollments. There has been an average annual drop in NTC’s full-year enrollment of about 5.6 percent since 2010, with a 4.2 percent decline projected for 2014.

“Enrollment is a signal that we need to step back and completely review and rethink what the proper role of NTC should be,” Faust said.

Brian Stefanich, principal at Bemidji High School, said the high school has “great partnerships” with NTC and its administration, including programs that allow high school students to earn college credit while taking courses on the BHS campus.

He sees firsthand the benefit of having a local post-secondary option beyond the four-year university. He expects, through the high school’s new Ramp-up to Readiness initiative that will work with students to earlier and more thoroughly plan out post-high school plans, that more students will look to NTC as a viable option.

“They’re excellent,” Stefanich said of NTC’s programs and how the college has been tweaked over the years to meet emerging career needs and modern technologies. “Our students that go to NTC from Bemidji High School, whether it is after high school or dual-enrolled (attending NTC while still at BHS), they learn at a very high rate and are challenged.”

He believes that existing cooperation between the high school and college will continue and also be strengthened to be meet the needs of current and future students.

“I look forward to even more collaboration and opportunities in the future,” Stefanich said.

NTC will continue

While most everything is on the table as the task force looks at NTC’s operations, Hanson has pledged that the college itself will continue.

“It will have a healthy and sustainable financial model, grounded in educational relevance,” he wrote in the op-ed. “And it will meet the changing needs of students of all ages and prepare graduates who are ready to contribute to the Bemidji-area economy.”

About 10 percent of Stowe’s employees are NTC graduates, and while they do need on-the-job training to learn the specific operations and skill sets used in his company, the base knowledge that they had coming in was incredibly strong, he said.

“The bottom line is, to be an electrician, you don’t need a four-year degree,” Stowe said. “If you’re going into a lot of the tech trades, that’s what a tech school does. It makes you employable, makes you effective. That’s certainly been the case with our (NTC) hires.”