ND colleges closing within the decade?

Chuck Wickenhofer
A state representative indicated to the Board of Higher Education this week that North Dakota will need to reduce its number of collges. LRSC is one of the state's five two-year schools.

State Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck told North Dakota’s Board of Higher Education earlier this week that the state has too many colleges. What that means for the future of higher education in North Dakota is unclear, but Becker believes that the current situation is unsustainable.

The state’s 11 colleges are made up of six four-year institutions and five two-year community colleges, including Lake Region State College in Devils Lake.

Though Becker did not provide specifics as to which colleges should be targeted for closure - or “repurposing,” as he put it - he did indicate that the closing of colleges in the relatively near future is all but inevitable.

“I would guess we could easily do away with four, maybe more. I don’t have any specific colleges in mind,” Becker said. “There should be a study to determine these things.”

Becker also told the board that shutting down colleges is a “hard pill to swallow,” but he believes that if the state isn’t proactive on the issue, many colleges are likely to close anyway.

“Just bringing up the idea meets with such resistance that we first have to get around that (to the point) that we’re willing to discuss it, that we’re willing to look at the fact that this is something that has to be coming down the road, whether it’s now, or whether we’ll do it when we’re behind the 8-ball,” Becker said.

Though a study on the issue has yet to be conducted, Becker said that cost and enrollment are sure to be factors in any decision made going forward.

“Obviously we would look at the ones with the least students, and we would also look at the ones that are providing college education at the greatest expense per student,” Becker said.

Becker, a plastic surgeon who got both his bachelor’s and medical degrees at University of North Dakota, said that the idea to shut down some of the state’s colleges has been discussed for a long time. He told the Board of Higher Education that the state has 11 colleges due to “parochialist economic development” and that the state came to the number of higher education institutions in  during a time when "little white school houses (were) every couple of miles."

His prediction is that a number of colleges in the state are likely to close within 10 years whether or not the state takes action.

“It’s an idea that’s been talked about for many, many years,” Becker said. “We can either do it by choice, or we’ll be doing it because we have no other choice, because the schools will be shuttered within the decade.”

Erin Wood, communications director at Lake Region State College, refused to comment for this story.