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New plan, new name coming for NTC: Reduction of staff and faculty expected as partnership with BSU expands

BEMIDJI — A new name and new direction are on the horizon for Northwest Technical College.

The 45-year-old college today is submitting a “change of control” application to its accrediting agency to further its partnership with Bemidji State University and revise its academic programming.

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Those changes will result in a yet-to-be-decided new name for the college next summer and prompt the loss of six to 10 staff positions by October with the potential of faculty job losses by the 2015-16 school year.

“This kind of change is never easy, and we regret the impact on individual employees,” said Richard Hanson, president of both institutions, in a press release issued Thursday. “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.”

This is the next step in the ongoing “reinvention” of NTC that began when a task force was announced in December to look at ways to transform the college in an effort to curb NTC’s 20 percent enrollment drop over the past four years.

Today’s application to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools details how the college’s alignment with BSU will be expanded beyond administration into academics. NTC students are proposed to take their general-education courses at BSU and pathways will be established to streamline the transition for students going from the college into four-year programs at BSU.

You can read the full application here.

In recent years, according to staff, about 10 percent of NTC students have continued on to BSU programs. Those figures are projected to increase as the new plan is put into place.

“There will be an increased number of programs … that will have direct pathways into the four-year programs at BSU,” Scott Faust, director of communications and marketing for both institutes, told the Pioneer on Thursday.

NTC’s academic programs over the next three years will be organized into four educational clusters: technical education, non-credit, nursing and allied health and education. Students will be able to “stack” their credits to pursue everything from certificates to bachelor’s degrees.

“There is nothing incremental about this,” Hanson said in the release. “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.”

The history

BSU and NTC began talking alignment in 2008. The partnership resulted in shared positions for administration, such as the presidency, and the departments of finance, communications and marketing, as well as facilities and admissions.

The application states the close alignment between the two institutions is “unique” within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system as they receive their state portion of operating dollars as one budget.

Because the college and university are tied so closely together, each has ability to affect the other.

NTC has experienced an enrollment decline of more than 20 percent the past four years, having dropped by the equivalent of 200 full-time students. If trends continue, the college would be on pace for a 35 percent drop in enrollment in a five-year period, according to the application.

Meanwhile, BSU, which itself has experienced an enrollment drop of 9 percent in the past four years, provided a $500,000 operational loan to NTC. There are no plans to repay that loan in the near future, according to the application.

“The university is not in a position to support the college without negative consequences and the college simply cannot resolve its issues by just making budget reductions,” the application states.

MnSCU, of which both BSU and NTC are members, this summer announced its “Charting the Future” initiative, through which the system aims to boost innovation and coordination among its 31 institutions. Faust said that while exact duplicates of the NTC/BSU relationship may not occur, their cooperation may be on the front edge of coming transformations.

“I think we’re going to see more connections between the schools,” Faust said. “These are all assets that belong to the people of Minnesota and how can we use them most effectively.”

The future

While NTC’s release states the plan’s primary objective is reversing the trend in enrollment declines, there were other considerations, as well. The 11 individuals tasked with reporting to Hanson their recommendations for NTC also set out to identify a “unique and powerful programmatic focus” for the college into the future.

The plan now calls for a shift to the four educational clusters as students are encouraged to pursue their goals by stacking credits toward certificates, diplomas and degrees. If they choose, they can go further to work toward bachelor degrees at BSU.

“We want to keep our talent local,” said Robert Griggs, the dean of NTC, in the release. “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.”

NTC students will take their general-education requirements at BSU while students from both institutions who may not yet be ready for college- and university-level courses will be able to take remedial classes at NTC. For the general-ed classes, space will be reserved for NTC students needing those required courses.

The goal, according to the college, is that while NTC will continue to serve the traditional college student who recently graduated from high school, but also adults who want to further or change their careers. One example is the Minnesota Innovation Institute, known locally as MI2, which aims to establish an entrepreneurship center in downtown Bemidji with a focus on manufacturing skills.

Carlson Companies also has committed $200,000 a year for three years toward the development of a new joint BSU/NTC degree in hospitality management. Trudy Rautio, the CEO of Carlson Companies, is a BSU alumna and recipient of BSU’s Distinguished Minnesotan Award.

“I think that came out of conversations that she had with people like President Hanson, discussing the needs of her company and looking at her industry and how that might dovetail with what BSU and the college are offering,” Faust said. “It makes … sense in a region where tourism is a very, very important industry.”

Other expanded offerings are being explored in fields such as retail management, forestry resource management, and health care, including such specialties as diagnostic technologies, cardiac support and medical assistant. Changes to specific NTC classes and programs have yet to be determined.

The goals are to equally serve students and also fill workforce needs.

“By meeting (employers’) needs we’re creating opportunities for people in the region to be successful,” Faust said.

Organizational changes

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone already has approved the plan for NTC, according to the release from the college.

The plan also includes organizational adjustments, including the previously announced appointment of Griggs as the interim dean for NTC. Griggs, who will continue to serve as vice president of innovation and extended learning for both BSU and NTC, also serves on what soon will be named the BSU/NTC Deans’ Council and BSU/NTC Academic Affairs Council.

Previously, NTC did not have a dean but a provost. Griggs will report to Hanson and Martin Tadlock, provost and vice president for academic affairs for both institutions.

Faust said Griggs, Tadlock and the four BSU deans — Shawn Strong, dean of the College of Business, Technology and Communication; Colleen Greer, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Jim Barta, the dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Ecology; and Jeanine Gangeness, the dean of the School of Nursing — all will be working together to identify specific programs and coursework for the newly transformed NTC.

“Obviously Robert Griggs is going to be very involved and Dr. Tadlock and the deans of Bemidji State will be involved, as they have a dual role now as well,” Faust said. “The programs at the college that correspond to their areas of responsibilities, now they’ll be involved in developing and shepherding the academic programs at the college.”

The timeline calls for curriculum transitions to begin this fall but not be fully implemented until 2015-16. Students already enrolled at NTC will be able to finish their programs.

“The application is a blueprint but there’s a lot of work to fill in the details and more decisions to be made,” Faust said.