What Dr. Thomas Mitzel Started But Wasn’t Allowed To Finish, DSU Becoming A Polytechnic Campus

In my previous blog post, I wrote about Dr. Thomas Mitzel giving his resignation as President of Dickinson State University, and leaving to become President of Kentucky Wesleyan College.

I knew that Dr. Thomas Mitzel would probably leave DSU sooner or later, because the town of Dickinson and North Dakota are difficult for normal people to live in, especially educated people.  It is very cold in North Dakota, and this area of western North Dakota is mostly barren, undeveloped grassland prairie.  The desolate landscape, very cold weather, and attitudes of the people here have helped to keep the entire population of the state of North Dakota below 800,000 people.

Regardless of whether North Dakota is inviting or not, there are several oil and natural gas formations about 6,000 feet underground, that caused an oil boom in the 1950s, late 1970s, and 2007 through 2014.  A couple hundred thousand people came to North Dakota to work in the 2007-2014 oil boom, at jobs that paid higher than average.

Meanwhile, during the North Dakota oil boom from 2007-2014, all across the U.S., there was the widespread complaint that college graduates with large student loan debt were unable to find employment in their field of study, good paying employment, or even any employment at all.  At this same time, many traditional Liberal Arts colleges were closing due to not being profitable.

Higher education in the U.S. is changing due to several factors.  More colleges and universities are offering online college course work because it is less expensive for many people because they don’t have to relocate to a college town, commute to a college town, or give up their normal 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to attend classes.

Another factor that is changing higher education is that employers simply want people who are ready and capable to go to work for them.  Traditional four-year college Liberal Arts degrees in majors like English, History, Religion, Philosophy, Art, Political Science and Communications aren’t exactly what many employers are looking for, especially in industries like health care, manufacturing, oil and gas.

Dr. Thomas Mitzel was aware that many traditional Liberal Arts colleges were closing, online college course work was competing with traditional college classrooms, many college graduates with Liberal Arts degrees were unable to find employment, and that industries with high paying jobs like health care, manufacturing, oil and gas wanted applicants with technical training.

In order to save DSU, or perhaps to even cause DSU to grow and thrive, DSU could continue offering four-year Liberal Arts degrees, but at the same time begin offering technical training that was specifically what industries and employers wanted.  Dr. Mitzel had a meeting in Bowman, North Dakota where he explained what he had in mind.  Here are some quotations as reported by the Bowman County Pioneer newspaper in their article https://bowmanextra.com/2018/09/21/dsu-looking-to-become-polytechnic/

“We will always remain a Liberal Arts institution,” Mitzel said. “But becoming a Polytechnic dual mission would allow us also to be able to offer certificates and practical courses.”

Mitzel has had three meetings with a manufacturer strategic group — the last one lasting for five hours….where it was discussed, “What are some of the needs that they have? We really sat down and went over every industry that was there,” Mitzel said. “What was their workforce needs? And we tried to find common ground. We found about eight areas of common ground in education that they need, going over everything from a certificate to a two-year degree.”

Mitzel said the programs are going to be career focused based on what industries want. DSU will be emphasizing real-world applications. Mitzel’s goal is to see 100 percent of the students complete an internship before they graduated.  Mitzel said it doesn’t just help the student prepare to enter the workforce, but it also helps potential employers find suitable employees.

This Bowman County Pioneer newspaper article concluded with some statements about Dr. Mitzel’s continuing discussions with faculty and administrators on the DSU campus, and his expectation of making proposals to the North Dakota Board of Higher Education in the Spring of 2019.

After this newspaper article was published in September of 2018 announcing that DSU could become a polytechnic campus, I didn’t hear very much more about it.  I thought that this was an incredibly good idea, that would solve a whole bunch of problems at the same time:  increase enrollment at DSU; give DSU a unique mission and role in North Dakota; attract college applicants from all over the U.S. with its technical training; enable oil field workers to obtain higher level technical jobs; allow local recent high school graduates to obtain training for technical jobs in the oil field; allow local oil companies to participate in the education curriculum; and for DSU to receive additional funding from the oil and gas industry.

When I didn’t see announcements about DSU beginning to offer technical training in oil field technology such as instrumentation, automation, controls, and safety, I believed that the State of North Dakota had squashed Mitzel’s plans.

Just like the Governor of North Dakota helped to steer the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum away from the DSU campus and Dickinson, I believe that other people in North Dakota government did not want Dickinson State University to grow and prosper by becoming successful as a polytechnic school.

My belief is, that the State of North Dakota does not want Dickinson to grow, or DSU to grow, because it does not want state money to go to this area.  I partly understand this, because the people in Dickinson really do act bad in all kinds of ways, very primitive at times.

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