On Thursday, November 2, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum presented his vision for higher education to an interim legislative committee (1). Before becoming governor in December 2016, Burgum owned Great Plains Software, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2001, when he became a Microsoft senior vice president (2). Burgum later left Microsoft to found a real estate development company and then a software investment company (2). Throughout his career as a business leader and now as governor, the place of technology in society has played a prominent role, with technology’s impact on higher education no exception.
In the November 2 meeting of the North Dakota Legislature’s Higher Education Committee, Burgum outlined his ideas about the changing shape of higher education in the face of technological advances, stating, “We’re in a world today where knowledge transfer can occur anytime, anyplace, on any device” (1). He explained his opinion that in-person methods of delivering higher education are vulnerable to technological changes that allow potential students to gain similar knowledge through MOOCs (massive open online courses) at low or even free cost (1). According to Burgum, shifting societal demands, which currently place more importance on workplace training than on post-secondary degrees, compounds the danger to institutions of higher education (1).
Burgum’s claim that institutions of higher education must adapt to these technological and societal changes was presented to the legislative committee at a time when that committee is considering the North Dakota University System’s funding model (1). Changes currently under discussion include possible incentives for each of the system’s 11 campuses for increased rates of graduation and retention, as well as incentives for increased offerings of certificate programs in areas with worker shortages (1). The chair of the State Board of Higher Education, Don Morton, like Burgum a former Microsoft executive, also attended the meeting and applauded Governor Burgum’s ideas, saying “He’s a very visionary guy, a very bright guy” (1).
It remains to be seen whether these conversations between the governor and higher education influencers in the state will result in an executive order similar to the one issued by Burgum in September 2017 that establishes an “Innovative Education Task Force” focused on K-12 education (3). This task force was established by Burgum in part because “technology has exponentially expanded opportunities for educators to…transform school systems and educational delivery” (3), which echoes the sentiments he expressed about higher education during the November 2 meeting. Whether such a task force is eventually created or not, at the November 2 meeting, the faculty adviser to the State Board of Higher Education called for including faculty members in any discussions about changes to current funding models or changes to current education delivery methods (1).