In North Dakota, state support for the teaching of writing in higher education is not in place to the degree many instructors and program coordinators might wish. That said, faculty members’ experiences seem to differ from campus to campus, with some faculty reporting significant campus support—development dollars to attend conferences like NCTE and CCCC, increased funding for writing-across-the-curriculum and writing-in-the-disciplines programming, and so on.
State-based policies that affect college-level writing include
- common course numbering, course descriptions, and credit for composition and developmental writing;
- requirements regarding maximum and sometimes minimum class size; guidelines for acceptance of transfer credit for first-year writing courses as well as WAC/WID;
- an approved list of placement tests and scores;
- advanced placement and dual credit options for students still in high school; and, of course,
- funding policies and decisions.
Many of these policies are tied to North Dakota’s State Board of Higher Education (SBHE) rather than the state government per se.
My conversations with writing faculty suggest that our primary concerns about state support are threefold:
- funding, which has been connected to morale issues as well as institutions’ ability to support student writers;
- dual credit courses; and
- the effect of policies specific to K-12 education on students’ writing skills. Dual credit courses and K-12 policies will be discussed under question 3 (below).
Funding for Salaries and Programming
Funding for salaries and programming is a key concern of nearly every faculty member who shared thoughts with me. For example, one source, who asked that her name not be used, wrote that “[w]e need more teachers in our classrooms and are having to rely on (luckily excellent) adjuncts to cover our classes.” Although funding for higher ed faltered when oil tax revenue was reduced, the upcoming biennium offers potential for growth in certain areas.
On January 25, Dave Thompson of Prairie Public Radio reported that “[t]here seems to be bipartisan agreement that state employees need a raise.”  Jack Dura notes that North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum “recommends $112 million for increased salaries,” an amount that would cover all state employees. Sydney Mook writes that the governor’s proposed budget includes $90 million for “increased staff compensation,” “targeted capital projects, and applied research,” among other higher education items. However, because Burgum has requested a 5 percent cut to the baseline, state higher education faces “a $27 million cut before the $90 million kicks in” (emphasis added). At this point, it is not clear how overall budget decisions will affect writing programs in particular. Decisions about courses, writing centers, and programs are made at the institutional, not state, level.
Faculty stated their appreciation for our first-year composition sequence, which is seen as student-supportive because it is based in two three-credit classes. Many students enter college with dual credit for ENGL 110; typically, these students enroll in ENGL 120 in the fall. The North Dakota University System (NDUS) does not offer a dual credit option for ENGL 120. The developmental courses ASC 087 (“College Preparatory Writing”) and ASC 088 (“Writing Lab,” an ALP-like course attached to some sections of ENGL 110) offer credit that counts toward financial aid but not graduation or GPA. Many stakeholders in North Dakota, as elsewhere, are preoccupied with reducing or eliminating developmental writing even as instructors and program directors note students’ need for developmental support as well as the burden placed on students who are required to pay for non-credit bearing courses.
North Dakota’s SBHE also determines student placement into first-year composition or developmental writing courses. In November 2018, SBHE policy was updated to include Accuplacer’s Next-Generation writing test. This test, which is based in editing questions, seems to have replaced Accuplacer’s WritePlacer at one institution. Although research has shown that timed, computer-scored essay tests aren’t ideal placement tools, several instructors with whom I have spoken have expressed concerns that reliance on the editing-based test will further reduce our ability to place students appropriately. One instructor, who asked not to be named, stated that “I don’t mind having guidelines set by the state, like X score in English on the ACT means a student could be placed in class X. Ditto with a writing test. However, writing faculty at each school, since we know our student body best, should ultimately determine placement” in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for composition students.
In general, the funding that supports student writing at North Dakota’s colleges and universities comes from the state and is channeled through Academic Affairs and/or Student Affairs (in the case of some writing centers or writing support programming).
Dr. Weaver-Hightower, for example, noted that “[m]ost of our funding comes from our Provost’s office to cover enrollment management. We do have a chronically underfunded writing center. We do not have outside support.”
Some institutions have obtained additional money through grant programs. One writing program director, for example, told me that “a Title III grant was responsible for establishing our writing center and writing program.”
The Effect of State Policies on Writing Instruction
A number of the college and university instructors who responded to my inquiry explicitly stated their empathy for K–12 instructors who must “teach to the test” while handling larger classes and more courses per semester than college writing instructors typically have to manage.
One instructor stated, for example, “I know high school teachers are tied to certain policies they cannot get around and time is always a factor since there is so much to learn in only a short time.” Nevertheless, faculty respondents often reported negative effects of K–12 policies on students’ writing. Dr. Brittany Hirth wrote that “[w]hat is happening in the high schools matters, as I have to shift what I consider to be the introductory information about writing each year.” She noted that she has worked with students who “have been supplied all their thesis statements by instructors” and “have been handed a complete outline for essays (thesis, topic sentences, really the whole outline is filled in) and were told to just add information that they Google themselves for evidence.” Focusing on programs rather than specific classroom practices, one faculty member said that “K–12 testing/standards have moved students away from studying literature and toward scanning tests. I believe this has helped their argumentative writing, but negatively impacted their critical thinking/analytical skills.”
Dual credit courses and state policies regarding how they operate are a significant area of concern. Kevin Moberg, Assistant Professor of English and Education at Dickinson State, noted, “We could probably say that dual-enrollment ENGL 110 and 120 classes in high schools have affected enrollment in [college-level] ENGL 110 and 120.” Dr. Weaver-Hightower stated that she has “seen initiatives toward dual credit affecting what we offer and also the skills of students in our classes. Students taking dual credit courses in the high schools are just not getting the same quality instruction that they would at the University. They just aren’t. Luckily our vertical writing program means that we get the students for two semesters anyway.”
Dr. Weaver-Hightower’s observation seems to bear out one of the arguments made in Kristine Hansen and Christine R. Farris’s College Credit for Writing in High School: The “Taking Care of” Business. The system North Dakota has in place— “concurrent enrollment” courses in which students who are earning college and high school writing credit sit alongside students who are earning only high school credit—may be the least effective version of this type of programming.
 Email communication, January 15, 2019.
Email communication, January 22, 2019.
 Email communication, January 25, 2019.
 Email communication, January 26, 2019.
 Email communication, January 15, 2019.