Dickinson State University opens 2021 academic year with State of the University address and strategic plan launch

Dickinson State University opens 2021 academic year with State of the University address and strategic plan launch

DSU President Steve Easton (left) and Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Hauser (right) exchange school T-shirts.

On Monday, Aug. 16, during the annual State of the University address, Dickinson State University (DSU) President Steve Easton and his executive team spoke of the resiliency of DSU.

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 academic year was challenging yet, in many ways, successful for the University.

Easton and executive team members highlighted the institution’s recent achievements. A challenge for the institution the last several years has been budget reductions due to lost revenue from the oil and gas and agriculture industries. Kent Anderson, DSU chief financial officer, shared that, for the first time in a decade, the institution is submitting not only a balanced budget but revenue projections resulting in a positive position for the University. Given the positive financial position, he shared, the executive team was confident in their recent decision to pass savings on to students in the form of a two-year tuition freeze. Anderson also highlighted that DSU’s infrastructure and deferred campus maintenance are also benefiting from the now-possible investments.

Sharing his optimism for the future, Easton stated, “Dickinson State is listening to its community partners, adding new programs in areas of need, innovating how courses are delivered to meet students where they are and keeping education affordable. These initiatives have resulted in an even stronger, more viable DSU. Our faculty and staff have accomplished much in the face of adversity. As our five-year strategic plan illustrates, I believe DSU is in a great place as we work toward our vision.”

The DSU Heritage Foundation (DSUHF) is a critical part of the University’s strategic plan. For only the second time in the school’s history, the Foundation awarded over $1 million in scholarships. Ty Orton, DSUHF executive director, expects that number to only increase. “The focus on scholarships is integral to the University’s mission of keeping the cost of higher education affordable for our students and their families,” according to Orton. “We don’t want financial challenges to be a barrier for students.”

The State of the University Address touched on the growing pains of the necessary and rapid changes that occurred over the past year and a half due to COVID-19. and the attitudes of students toward higher education. Debora Dragseth, provost and vice president for academic affairs at DSU, noted that there has been some disagreement about the direction of the University. “We hope to encourage an atmosphere on our campus where we will be in open dialogue, showing each other respect, even when we may disagree.”

Dickinson State University also announced the launch of its strategic plan, “5 Years in Focus: A Blueprint for DSU’s Future 2021-2026.” Deb Nelson, CEO of DLN Consulting, an organization that assists businesses with strategic planning and more, worked with a team of faculty, staff, students and external stakeholders over the past year to develop a strategic plan for the University. Nelson presented the plan, which can be accessed at www.dickinsonstate.edu/strategicplan, to the campus Thursday, Aug. 19, It highlights DSU’s efforts in financial stability, responsiveness to industry, student success, research, and system cohesiveness.

Carrie Hauser, a dual mission expert and CEO of Colorado Mountain College, a large dual mission institution system in Colorado, spoke to the campus on the critical elements of the strategic plan: the institution’s commitment to its dual mission. Hauser shared, “Adopting a dual mission puts DSU ahead of the curve. The industry is changing, . . . you will soon be the rule, not the exception. Dickinson State will always retain its liberal arts foundation, but now it will also have a career and technical education focus that is so critical to surviving in higher education today.”

The University expects its fall numbers to be strong despite the spikes of the Delta variant in North Dakota. This fall, DSU will hold COVID-19 testing and vaccination opportunities for students, staff and faculty. According to Easton, “The best tool that we have right now to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus is having as many of our campus community fully vaccinated as possible.” Although DSU will strongly encourage masks, their use will be optional as the academic year begins. Faculty can choose to require masks in their individual classrooms and learning spaces.

Overall, according to Dragseth, the campus is looking forward to a successful year. “Fulfilling our mission has taken on a bit of a different look due to the pandemic, but our faculty and staff are excited to begin another year of making a positive impact on our students and our region.”