Certificates A Growing Trend At North Dakota Colleges

State schools holding graduation this weekend.

This is a photo of graduates of Bismarck State College.
Graduates of Bismarck State College toss their caps May 10, 2024, during commencement at the Bismarck Event Center. (Michael Achterling/North Dakota Monitor)

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It’s graduation weekend for North Dakota’s public colleges, with the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University accounting for more than half of the degrees and certificates to be handed out.

Which of the nine remaining schools would be next in line? If you guessed Bismarck State College, you get an A.

UND accounts for about 33% of the graduates and NDSU 28%, according to 2023 figures. Bismarck State accounts for 9.6% of program completions.

Not all the program completions mean a two-year or four-year degree.

Bismarck State offers a list of certificate programs that are less than one year, such as mobile app development, as well as two-year programs such as nursing and a few four-year programs.

North Dakota University System Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs Lisa Johnson. (North Dakota University System)
“There are growing and an incredible number of certificates that campuses are developing,” said Lisa Johnson, vice chancellor of student and academic affairs.

She said that in the last year alone, out of the 210 academic programs that came through the North Dakota University System office and were approved by the State Board of Higher Education, 142 out of those were certificate programs.

“Some of that is just campuses looking at programs, for example, an associate degree, and thinking about how to bundle, how to repackage existing programs into smaller sort of increments that students might complete as a certificate, possibly even as a student in high school,” Johnson said.

While the number of graduates from North Dakota colleges and universities has declined almost 6% in the past five years, the number of program completions is down only about 3%, with some students completing multiple degrees or certificates.

Johnson looked at data from 2019 through 2023, the last year of complete data on program completions that includes fall, spring and summer graduates.

While the 11 public colleges are having their graduations either Friday or Saturday this weekend, Johnson said the data for the 2024 class isn’t finalized just yet.

She said the graduation trend aligns with the enrollment trend.

A factor in recruiting students is the strong job market. The unemployment rate in North Dakota was at just 2% as of March.

The number of graduates for the spring semester, as compiled by the NDUS office, are:

  • North Dakota State University – 1,988
  • University of North Dakota – 1,896
  • Bismarck State College – 903
  • North Dakota State College of Science – 660
  • Minot State University – 385
  • Dickinson State University – 224
  • Dakota College at Bottineau – 179
  • Lake Region State College – 145
  • Mayville State University – 138
  • Williston State College – 136
  • Valley City State University – 119
Students of Bismarck State College attend a graduation ceremony May 10, 2024, at the Bismarck Event Center. (Michael Achterling/North Dakota Monitor)

Many of the certificate programs are aimed at filling specific needs in the workforce, such as meat cutting at North Dakota State College of Science and Dickinson State University.

Some are designed to help professionals acquire or maintain a license.

“Sometimes teachers will come back and get a certificate, for example, working with individuals on the autism spectrum, because that was something they didn’t have when they went through college,” Johnson said. “But maybe they’ve changed jobs, or they’re trying to have some additional job responsibilities, so these certificates nicely complement those without having to return to get an entire two year or four year degree in these very specific areas.”

Other certifications may be for personal enjoyment or a side business.

“You’ll see photography and digital design, and those two meet the needs of the community from a different angle,” Johnson said.

North Dakota Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. North Dakota Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Amy Dalrymple for questions: info@northdakotamonitor.com. Follow North Dakota Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

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