Luring them in

I recently sat in on a symposium held by the North Dakota State University Research and Technology Park to introduce the park’s development of a strategic plan to better meet the state’s changing needs. The keynote speaker of the symposium was Eva Klein of Eva Klein & Associates Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in assisting higher education institutions develop strategic plans and business models. Klein has been hired ┬áto conduct an assessment of the park and will present her findings to its leadership in February. The results will be used to influence the park’s strategic plan.

Klein’s presentation offered an overall view of the higher education system and her vision for “the university of the 21st century.” Noting that she believes all 21st century industries fit into four categories — information technology, life sciences, advanced and sustainable manufacturing, and energy and environment — she urged attendees to envision the NDSU research park’s role in the 21st century and asked them to consider which categories the park can best serve.

While many of her comments were directed toward NDSU’s research park, they appeared to ring true for the entire region. Klein noted that the local financial economy is very strong, but cautioned that because the 21st century economy is a knowledge economy, human capital is extremely valuable. Therefore, population is extremely important and areas with small populations could be at a disadvantage. She displayed a graphic highlighting the fact that North Dakota (as well as South Dakota and Minnesota) are not included in any of the 10 projected Megapolitans of the future, and said, “It’s the one gaping weakness in your game and deserves attention.”

One of Klein’s suggestions to increase the area’s worker pool is for universities to offer a discount for out-of-state students. She suggested that the state’s universities are the single-best opportunity to attract new residents and so to charge a higher fee for non-resident students when the area so desperately needs out-of-state workers to help fill open jobs just doesn’t make sense.

What do you think? Is it feasible for area universities to charge out-of-state students less in hopes that they will stay and add to the area’s workforce? What other options are on the table for our higher education institutions to support the area’s ongoing need for workers? Email or comment with your suggestions. I’ll be exploring this issue in the February issue of the magazine and look forward to relaying the responses of area education leaders.